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Full text of "The romance of an emergency"

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FORM NO 513, 
REV. 3/84 









t 



The Romance of an Emergency 



THE ROMANCE 

OF 

AN EMERGENCY 



* * • .Rlip's' 

Mrs. G. S. REANEY 

AUTHOR OF « « 

"UNDER orders" • « 

"just in time" « « 
"glady's vow," etc. 



LONDON • « « 
HENRY J. DRANE 

(V£ OLDE ST. BRIDE'S PRESSE) 

« SALISBURY HOUSE 

SALISBURY SQUARE « 

« FLEET STREET, E.C. 

Copyrighted in America 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2014 



https://archive.org/details/romanceofemergen5219rean 



PREFACE 

For the general reader to follow this story fully it 
may be well to call attention to a fact but little 
understood by the world at large, namely, that the 
" Society " which moves in our midst (numerically at 
almost a standstill as shown by the last religious 
census, but never more forcible than to-day in its 
known adherence to " first principles "), the Society of 
Friends, so often spoken of as " the Quakers," claims 
to do its part to purify commercial life by devoting a 
certain proportion of its members to all legitimate 
trades. Comparatively recently the Society announced 
amongst themselves that certain branches of business 
needed very special support, and an appeal was made 
to young men, some with university training, choosing 
their life-work to devote their powers and energies in 
the direction specified, and with marvellous results. 
England owes far more than is usually known to the 
" Quaker Firms " whose care — physical, moral and 
spiritual — of their employes forms a splendid example 
in our midst, an example which, if followed generally, 
would go far to settle the nation's problems so 
associated with overcrowding and underpaying. 

Isabel Reaney. 

" Resthaven," 

Blackheath. 



INDEX 



CHAPTER PAGE 

I. An Alarming Notice - . - - 9 

II. A Way out of the Difficulty - - 14 

III. An Important Decision - - - - 22 

IV. The Bridegroom-Elect - - - - 35 
V. How Gertrude Hastings came to 

leave Home 45 

VI. Aubrey Rice's Secret - - - - 57 

VII. The New Squire "At Home" - - 71 

VIII. Sunset Illuminings .... 86 
IX. Gertrude Hastings' Promise to her 

Pupil 95 

X. An Angry Rector 105 

XL Aubrey Rice in new Surroundings - 115 

XII. A Bank Holiday Visitor - - - 124 

XIII. A Lost Latch-key 132 

XIV. A Grave Bargain 142 

XV. "No Answer" 157 

XV 1. The First "Caller" after the Wedding 170 

XVIL " And IT WAS Night " - - - - 184 

XVIII. The Squire makes His Will - - - 203 

XIX. No. "75" 213 

XX. Sick-room Confidences - - - - 221 

XXI. A Story told to Sympathetic Ears - 232 



viii 



Index 



CHAPTER PAGE 

XXII. A Sunday Service in the Convict Prison 242 

XXIII. How "The Unexpected" Happened - 252 

XXIV. The Farm Visitors - - - - 265 
XXV. "Down ON His Luck" - - - - 277 

XXVI. Eight Thousand Empty Chairs - - 293 

XXVII. Down Eastwards 308 

XXVIII. An Interview AT THE Manor - - 317 

XXIX. Where had HE MET HIM BEFORE ? - - 324 

XXX. Stanley Pritchard's Confession - - 341 

XXXI. News FOR the Rector - - - - 351 

XXXII. The Man with a Plate - - - - 361 

XXXIII. These Days and Those - - - - 376 



THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



CHAPTER I 

AN ALARMING NOTICE 

The Misses Edgcombe were in a terrible 
difficulty. Never since the death of their father, 
the Squire — which took place some eight years 
previous to the events about to be narrated — 
had anything happened to move them in so 
grave a manner. 

"It is too dreadful to contemplate," exclaimed 
Miss Maria, the elder of the two ladies, but, by 
long custom, filling the place of the younger. 
**Oh, Matilda, what j^a// we do? My nerves 
are all in a twitter, and I feel it will take a life- 
time to get over the shock!" 

Pull yourself together, Maria, and remember 
we are on our dignity — very much so — and must 
think of a way out of this emergency as befits 
our position ! I admit I feel as much inclined 
to laugh as to cry," said Miss Matilda. I am 
thoroughly upset," and she closed a very small 
hand, and brought it down upon the table near 



lO THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

to which she was sitting with a force which quite 
explained how it happened that she took the 
lead in all things concerning home life, leaving 
her sister to take a second place in matters 
where great decisions had to be made. 

The cause of the trouble which so terribly 
excited these gently-born ladies — neither of 
whom would see fifty again — would be difficult 
to define without certain explanations. Let it 
be said then at once that these good women, 
cultured and refined to a degree, had from baby- 
hood — as accorded with the spirit of the times 
when they were children^ — been cared for and 
looked after in a way which left np room for self- 
reliance, or, for the matter of that, for freedom 
of thought or of action. 

In early days the high-class nurse had taught 

her little ladies " to play softly, taking care 
never to soil their pretty pinafores," or to 
move about quickly enough to put their hair 
out of curl. Then when the old-fashioned but 
most estimable governess reigned in place of 
the nurse, she had ruled with the same dictum. 

Her young pupils must be gentle at all times 
— never speak when with their elders unless 
spoken to ; learn all they could but never have 
an opinion of their own. It was not for real 
ladies to be self-assertive "—and so forth. 

When in due time the ''little ladies" of 
former days had grown into the very gentle 



AN ALARMING NOTICE 



and unobtrusive girls of a later period, and 
were presented at Court by their elderly aunt, 
Lady Chingfield — their mother having perforce 
excluded herself from all society (being, since 
the birth of her second daughter, a chronic 
invalid) — they took their places in the world of 
society in a colourless, indefinite sort of way, 
neither having an idea for which she could 
claim originality, both depending absolutely and 
utterly upon " dear papa'* on the one hand, or 
dear mamma " on the other, according to the 
merits of the occasion requiring counsel or 
advice. 

Neither of the two had been troubled by 
romances which are so inevitably associated 
with' youth. Perhaps their natural shyness and 
reserve placed a "no thoroughfare" for would-be 
wooers. It was an open secret that they were 
rich. The Squire had no ambition to marry 
his daughters, and Mrs. Edgcombe thought 
" they were best as they were," and when at 
length death was about to end her weary, 
suffering life, she even went so far as to make 
them promise never to leave their dear 
father." 

Nor did they ever dream of doing such a 
thing. They lived their even-flowing, unevent- 
ful lives with him in the quiet Manor House 
until he suddenly left them in full possession of 
the old home and the fifteen thousand a year 



12 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

which went along with it. An accident in the 
hunting-field brought the Squire's life to its 
abrupt termination. His daughters, neither of 
whom had up to that date looked her age, 
seemed to grow older quickly, otherwise no 
outward change marked even this period of 
their lifetime. 

The pressure of business cares had never 
come upon these ladies of whom I write, even 
when bereft of both parents. John, the faith- 
ful butler, who had started life at Edgcombe 
Manor as page boy when the little daughters 
of the home were still in the nursery, had been 
for many years the Squire s confidential man, 
and when his master died he relieved the ladies 
of all worry concerning legal documents, inter- 
viewing the family lawyer then and upon many 
subsequent occasions on their behalf It was 
well he was able to do this, for with him — the 
faithful John — rested all the family history as 
concerned the late Squire's property and 
accounts, seeing the previous lawyer, of whom, 
at the time of the Squire's death, the present 
was barely a year or two the successor, had 
perished in the midst of much valuable property, 
the victim of a fire which had broken out in his 
city office. 

With this explanation before the reader, it is 
comparatively easy to state the cause of the 
Misses Edgcombe's great agitation upon the 



AN ALARMING NOTICE 



13 



morning alluded to in the opening of this 
chapter. 

John, the faithful butler, family servant, fac- 
totum, and confidential friend, had intimated in 
a well-worded letter addressed to both ladies, 
that seeing he wanted to settle down in life 
and make a home of his own, he must, with 
regret, and most respectfully beg to give a 
month's notice. Hoping the ladies w^ould find 
some one to take his place, he would like to 
leave their service on the forthcoming May 
i6th." 



CHAPTER II 



A WAY OUT OF THE DIFFICULTY 

With John's letter before them the Misses 
Edgcombe pathetically discussed their over- 
whelming trouble, if discussion it could be 
called when Miss Matilda ventured a remark 
to which Miss Maria would reply, " Indeed," 
Quite true." 

At length the younger sister rose and rang 
the bell. To the page boy who came in answer 
to the summons Miss Matilda said, " Ask John 
to be kind enough to step this way." 

" My dear Matilda, what are you doing ? " 
exclaimed Maria with excitement, visibly tremb- 
ling. "Could we not have sent him a little 
note and spared ourselves a painful interview?" 

We are only working in the dark while we 
know nothing of Johns plans," said Matilda, 
thoughtfully. Supposing he wants to marry 
Hughes, our maid, why should they not continue 
to live on here ? Not that I think he could be in 
love with Hughes without our knowing some- 
thing about it, but that is by way of suggestion. 
I am prepared to meet John half-way if we can 
arrive at a compromise." 

14 



A WAY OUT OF THE DIFFICULTY 1 5 



" Certainly, Matilda," said Miss Maria, pen- 
sively. Something, now you mention it, 
might be done by way of compromise if 
only — " 

A knock at the door caused Miss Maria to 
stop abruptly. John quickly followed upon his 
knock, not waiting for the ''Come in" which 
Miss Matilda tried to give in her usual tones of 
dignified authority. 

He was a fine -looking man, about the 
average height, with an expansive forehead, 
and eyes which looked straight into the face of 
the one to whom he happened to be speaking. 
Like all men long accustomed to the position 
he occupied, he had instinctively caught the 
manners of the gentleman from those towards 
whom his ministrations of service invariably led 
him ; only in the lowered voice and the semi- 
bow with which he was accustomed to receive an 
order did he betray his calling. 

At the present moment he stood before the 
two ladies whose every wish it was his privilege 
to consider a command — his whole attitude a 
mute interrogation. 

What do you please to want ? " 

"We have sent for you, John," began Miss 
Matilda, in reference to your letter this morn- 
ing received." 

The lady spoke with a slight tremor in her 
voice, but otherwise her manner was dignified. 



1 6 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

John looked nervous, but he bowed mutely and 
awaited further observation. 

** Needless to say it gives us inexpressible 
pain," continued Miss Matilda, " to think for a 
moment of parting from an old servant whom 
we have at all times, and especially since our 
dear father's decease, so highly appreciated. 
And we are greatly surprised, never having 
even faintly thought of you as attached to any 
one. I have sent for you " (the we " was 
invariably dropped when referring to a matter 
which depended upon her own definite action as 
if to clear her sister from all responsibility), ** I 
have sent for you to see if there could not be 
some compromise : say we gave up certain 
rooms for your own occupation, when married, 
and you brought your wife to live under this 
roof? " 

John cleared his throat, and seemed anxious 
to interrupt the speaker at this point, but Miss 
Matilda went on steadily — 

"It is utterly impossible for us in our com- 
plete isolation from our relations — the few we 
have living — in what I may call our unprotected 
and most dependent position — it is quite impos- 
sible, as I was saying, to dispense with your 
valuable services. It would be more than 
either Miss Maria or myself could contemplate 
with serenity of mind. You could, I trust, 
make yourself happy under this roof, in spite 



A WAY OUT OF THE DIFFICULTY 1 7 



of altered circumstances, if she did not 
object ? " 

" I have not explained," stammered John, 
his brow flushing as he looked Miss Matilda 
straight in the face — he had no wish to conceal 
anything, he was as straight and honest as the 
day, and no one was more sure of this than the 
lady to whom he directed his remarks — " I 
have not explained, ma'am, that at present I 
have no one in view. It is only my wish to 
settle down. If I don't do it now, I feel I 
never shall, and I would like to have a home of 
my own ! " 

" But surely, John, it would have been time 
enough to talk of leaving us when you had met 
with some one willing — willing to become your 
wife ! " Miss Matilda said, quickly, and her tone 
had a shade of relief in it, while her cheek 
flushed visibly. After all, it was intensely droll 
to be talking with the butler, John, about a 
supposed love affair. 

" I don't think I shall be long in finding 
some one," John said, quietly, as unmoved as if 
he were talking of engaging a servant for which 
there was a vacancy upon the staff. Then 
he added, thoughtfully, I do not suppose 
I should be hard to please, provided the 
some one I fix my mind upon is somewhere 
about my own age ; that will be what I 
mostly want. I have no thought to marry 



i8 



THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



a young wife. My fancy is for some one 
who will like pretty much to keep to the home 
I should offer her ; one that I could speak of as 
Abraham spoke of Sarah without a moment's 
hesitation, when asked where she was, 'Behold, 
in the tent ! ' I have a mind, ma'am, to take 
things leisurely in my old age, and this seems 
to me the best way to do it." 

Doubtless you are right, John," said Miss 
Matilda, " but you must see our side of the 
question. It is far more painful to us than 
could be possible under ordinary circumstances. 
We have been all our lives so dependent upon 
some one — it seems little short of a disaster to 
my sister and myself to think of your leaving 
us!" 

" Of course," said John, looking a little ner- 
vous, I am not that particular but what I 
could wait a few weeks, ma'am, for the matter 
of that ; so long as you accept my notice there 
is no real hurry, as — as I can be looking about, 
you see, for — for my wife." 

*'Then let it remain so for the present, John," 
said Miss Matilda, with heightened colour — the 
interview was costing her a good deal. Miss 
Maria and I would not, of course, like to stand 
in the way of your best interests, and we will 
think the matter over, and perhaps there will 
be a way out of the difficulty." 

Miss Matilda threw herself back in her chair 



A WAY OUT OF THE DIFFICULTY 1 9 



and took up her needlework and John felt him- 
self dismissed. Scarcely had the door closed 
upon his retreating form than Miss Maria, who 
had maintained perfect silence during the inter- 
view, broke down completely in a fit of hysterical 
weeping. 

Control your feelings, sister," said Miss 
Matilda, her own lip trembling and her voice 
no longer firm. We are certainly passing 
under a cloud of sorrow, but we must bear up 
and maintain the dignity of our ancestry. Of 
course, things would have been quite different if 
John had not been here as long as we can 
remember — indeed, he seems our link with the 
past, a kind of pleasant memory associated with 
our dear parents' lifetime ; when he goes we 
shall have the feeling of starting life afresh, and 
it is late for us to be doing this ; and it might 
not have mattered at all if we had any friend or 
relative who could take his place and manage 
our business matters for us. John was trained 
by dear father, and knows how to do things his 
way. Why, we absolutely know nothing about 
the details of affairs ! Come, Maria, cease 
weeping and help me to think out what is best 
to be done." 

All this time the elder lady had continued her 
weeping and wailing, but gradually regaining 
self-control while listening to her sister s words. 

It was strange that neither of these two 



20 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

gentlewomen, so burdened and bewildered by 
this unexpected blow, thought for a moment of 
charging the originator of the trouble with lack 
of consideration or selfishness. Perhaps it 
would have been better for them if they 
had. There is nothing so helpful in carrying 
us through specially trying circumstances as 
the inner consciousness that we are in some 
way badly treated or wronged by one whose 
injustice arouses righteous indignation. Who 
does not know the difference between a spirit 
broken by untoward circumstances and a spirit 
so roused to resentment of unmerited evil that 
it soars above all difficulties in its very deter- 
mination to overcome them ? 

The Misses Edgcombe, as the days passed on, 
could think and speak of nothing else but the 
impending evil of John's departure, and soon 
their nights became almost as restless and dis- 
turbed as their days, and the fact was visibly 
telling upon even Miss Matilda's health. 

May the i6th came and went and nothing 
more had been said or done in reference to the 
all-absorbing subject ; but the butler would 
occasionally make some remark relating to 
most trivial matters which conveyed the im- 
pression that he no longer regarded himself 
as a fixture at the Manor House. 

A broken cord in a Venetian blind belonging 
to the inner drawing-room had led one 



A WAY OUT OF THE DIFFICULTY 21 

day to the remark to Miss Matilda Edgcombe, 
There is only one shop where I can get 
cords to suit these blinds. I have tried several, 
but Dalrymple's wear the best and last the 
longest. I will make a note of this in the 
general reference book, where I put down 
several items which I think you will find 
useful." 

One morning — it was early in June, a sultry, 
enervating day — when Miss Maria was suffering 
from one of her bad headaches, her sister came 
and sat down beside her, and, placing her 
hand upon her arm, said in a tremulous voice, 

Maria, I have thought of a way out of our 
difficulty." 

"About John, you mean?" said Miss Maria, 
and she sighed deeply. 
Yes, about John." 

"And pray what is it?" enquired Maria a 
little fretfully : so many plans had been thought 
out which subsequently came to nothing, this 
was doubtless only another such. 

Why," said Matilda, and she spoke with an 
awe in her tones suggestive of much disturbed 
feeling, while her pallid cheeks flushed bright 
crimson, either you or I must marry John." 



CHAPTER III 



AN IMPORTANT DECISION 

A FREQUENT visitor at Edgcombe Manor was 
Gertrude Hastings, the Rector's youngest 
daughter. She had chanced in her babyhood 
to have won the special notice of the Squire, 
and forthwith indulgences were granted her 
which had not been extended to either of 
her five sisters. She had by reason of these 
indulgences almost grown up upon the Manor 
property, having played about the grounds, 
under the eye of her nurse, when only a 
toddling mite of two or three, riding, when 
barely six, a shaggy pony which the Squire 
provided for her use, and long before her 
teens distinguishing herself by fearless exploits 
which stamped her character with marks of 
bravery, and gave her a reputation not likely to 
be forgotten. 

Later, during a brief sojourn in Brussels to 
give finish to the education which an up-to-date 
governess had most carefully conducted at 
home, Gertrude Hastings had been most sorely 
missed by her Manor House friends. The 
Squire was wont to say when she was a mere 



AN IMPORTANT DECISION. 



23 



child, if anything kept her at home for a few 
days, it seemed as if something were wanting 
in the Manor House : things fell flat. A merry 
voice, so free to prattle, was missing, and it 
was something of this, but with more definite 
pain about it, that the Misses Edgcombe had 
felt when Gertrude was away on the Continent. 

Her coming home for good" had been a 
day long looked forward to with pleasure, and 
the time which had elapsed since this event had 
taken place had served to strengthen the ties 
which bound these two lonely ladies to their 
young friend. 

It was scarcely strange that Gertrude 
Hastings should have been announced that day 
as a caller at the very moment when Miss 
Edgcombe had made the startling communica- 
tion to her sister that one of them must marry 
the butler John. 

She came springing into the room with all 
the buoyancy of step belonging to one of her 
sunny nature, looking so picturesque and fresh 
in her pretty summer garments and greeting the 
sisters with no little display of affection. This 
was the first time she had seen them since her 
return home after a visit of several weeks to the 
country house of one of her Brussels school- 
fellows. 

Gertrude Hastings had no pretensions to 
beauty. She was, to be distinctly accurate, a 



24 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



plain girl. Her features were irregular and her 
expansive brow — which was clearly out of all 
proportion to the rest of her face — unduly in 
evidence. In spite of this, all who knew her 
best admitted her expression was such as to 
make everything else forgotten but the fact that 
she was simply charming, so vivacious, so fresh, 
so like a healthy breeze. 

She called the ladies of the Manor House 
*'Auntie," "Aunt Maria" and "Aunt Matilda'' 
respectively, and treated them to all her con- 
fidences. Indeed, it would seem more than 
strange to have kept back anything affecting 
her own life and happiness from the two ladies 
who were so closely associated With her earliest 
memories. 

*'Yes," she said, blushing rosy red, *'of 
course I am going to tell you every little bit 
about my engagement ! I wanted badly to 
write it, but it would have meant such an 
unreasonably long letter, and I like best to tell 
you, sitting as I do in this lovely chair, where 
I can look at you and see your unbounded 
pleasure when you hear about my hero ! " 

''Is he fair or dark ?" queried Miss Maria, 
interrupting. I want to picture him while you 
speak ! " 

" Of course he will be very tall," said Miss 
Matilda. " I could not picture you with a 
lover who was very short and small ! " 



AN IMPORTANT DECISION 



25 



No, you are quite right, auntie. I shall 
want to look up to my husband in every sense 
and way," said Gertrude, warmly, ''and so I 
shall do. Aubrey is a little over six feet, as 
straight as a dart ; he is in the Volunteers, and 
looks quite the soldier ; he is fair — not ^00 fair, 
you know — with very curly hair, and* oh! such 
blue, blue eyes. I cannot tell you the shape of 
his mouth, for it is hidden by a full moustache ; 
but I am sure it is good-tempered, for Aubrey 
is so bright always, and he hasn't the tiniest 
twist of sulkiness in his nature! How do I 
know ? Why, just because I have seen him so 
constantly and under all circumstances, and he's 
just the same ! You know he has been staying 
in the house with me : he was recovering from a 
broken arm, and Lady Horrick would insist 
upon him coming to the Hall to be nursed. Of 
course he was able to be about just the same, 
but being his right arm, he was unfit for work. 
My old school friend, Ethel Horrick, seemed so 
much interested in Aubrey Rice that I quite took 
for granted they were very special friends until 
— well, the happy little secret dawned upon me 
one day, Aubrey was in love with me . . . 
Oh, I cannot tell you how the whole world 
changed to me when I knew this. I think I 
must have cared for him from the first moment 
we met, only I could not let myself think about 
it until he spoke to me, and then everything 

c 



26 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



came with a rush. Lord Horrick wrote at once 
to papa, and he came down immediately to 
Moxdale Hall, and stayed with us for a few 
days. Aubrey will not be able to come and see 
us for some time, as he has had his holiday for 
the year." 

But what does your father say about it all.^^" 
enquired Miss Matilda, and there was an audible 
sigh. After all, it was very charming to see a 
young girl's enthusiasm about the man she 
loved ; but when people were more than twice 
her age everything would be very different, 
even supposing there could be a real lover in 
the question. 

Papa likes Aubrey," replied Gertrude. **In 
a way I think he is quite satisfied about every- 
thing, only he wishes he had better prospects. 
You see he is only a clerk " 

Only a clerk ! " exclaimed both ladies in 
tones of great surprise. How could they ever 
spare this dear girl to one of inferior or secondary 
position ? She was in every way so superior 
herself. 

Gertrude coloured, as she said warmly, 
Aubrey is well-born, and can boast even a 
better ancestry than we can. He has, I know, 
many years of plod before him, but we are 
both young and can afford to wait for our 
new home." 

How old is he, my dear?" said Miss Maria, 



AN IMPORTANT DECISION 



27 



growing much interested in the young man. It 
was quite a relief to both sisters to think a long 
engagement was probable : how could they 
spare Gertrude out of their lives ? 

He is just twenty-two," was the reply, and 
I, you know, was nineteen last October, so 
we could well make it a ten years' engage- 
ment ! " 

At this remark both the ladies laughed a 
little ; then Miss Matilda reddened as she 
thought of the butler John's desire to settle 
down quickly. 

''It is so strange to think of you. Birdie, 
talking in this way," she said, rousing herself to 
speak, and addressing Gertrude by the pet 
name by which the sisters were very fond of 
calling her. *' You are such a child to be 
talking of a home of your own, however far 
distant." Then, moved by some strange im- 
pulse, Miss Matilda added, with a little nervous 
laugh, *• What will you say if I tell you that 
my sister and I are seriously contemplating 
being married — one of us, you know — I am not 
sure which?" 

*' Aunt Matilda, how funny you are ! " 
exclaimed Gertrude, jumping up from her seat 
and kissing the flushed cheek of the speaker. 

I could never think of you living anywhere 
else than here. Oh, it is too dreadful to 
imagine this dear old place without either of 
you!" 



28 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

** Then, my dear, we must arrange to remain 
here and — and let this be our married home, 
my sister's or mine — not both of us married, 
you understand" — and Miss Matilda laughed. 
She was growing quite frivolous all of a 
sudden ! 

Well, auntie, let me be your bridesmaid — 
or Aunt Maria's, whichever it is to be," said 
Gertrude, quite enjoying the joke. So long 
as you do not leave Edgcombe Manor I will 
raise no objection ! " 

Another caller was announced, and lunch 
quickly followed. Miss Matilda had grown 
serious again, but her cheeks remained flushed, 
and there was an unusual brilliancy in her dark- 
grey eyes. 

That evening, when John came to the 
drawing-room to ask " if the ladies required 
anything more," Miss Matilda said, answering 
for both, We would like a word with you. 
Please come in and oblige us by taking a seat." 

Whereupon John subsided on the extreme 
edge of the nearest chair. 

Miss Maria had a sudden fit of coughing, 
which gave her sister time to collect her 
thoughts before plunging into the subject 
uppermost in her mind. When at length all 
was again quiet, she said, with heightened 
colour, and a nervous tremble in her voice. 

It is about your proposed marriage, John." 



AN IMPORTANT DECISION 



29 



" Yes, ma'am," said the one addressed, and 
the colour mounted to his own brow. 

"We have been much perplexed to find a 
way out of the difficulty which faces us when- 
ever we think of parting with — an old friend, 
for it is only in that light we can regard you ! " 

"You honour me in speaking of my poor 
services so highly," said John, his face shining 
with the pleasure the appreciative comment 
conveyed to his mind. 

"It is only as a friend we can think of you," 
continued Miss Matilda. " We forget you have 
occupied the position of actual service only in 
our home. You have grown to be, from your 
long residence here, quite as one of the family. 
Our good mother always felt grateful for your 
devotion to herself ; our excellent father trusted 
you as an equal, and we — we, his daughters, 
have always reposed the >greatest confidence in 
you. 

" You have always treated me with marked 
courtesy and kindness," observed John, as Miss 
Matilda paused. 

" You have deserved far more than we have 
shown," continued the speaker, every moment 
growing more nervous, and, in proof of this, 
we have a proposal to make you which will 
appear a little startling at first, but when you 
have well thought over it, as my sister and I 
have done, it will, I doubt not, seem less 
impossible." 



30 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

An awkward pause followed this remark. 
Twice Miss Matilda made an effort to continue 
and each time unsuccessfully. 

At length John felt quite anxious to help the 
lady out with her proposition, and, little thinking 
what he was assisting her to say, he remarked 
as he rose from his seat and stepped towards 
the table against which Miss Matilda was 
sitting, Any suggestion you may please to 
make shall have my most earnest attention, 
ma'am. Can I say more ? " 

No, John," replied Miss Matilda, and she 
sighed as if she were overburdened with the 
responsibility of the proposal she was about to 
make. Then something suddenly struck her ; 
supposing in the few weeks which had passed 
since John's original notice was given he had 
found some one whom he would like to secure 
for his wife, waiting for the further development 
of his venture before making it known. 

Let us quite understand how matters are 
to-day," she said, nervously. Have you found 
any one yet to listen to your proposals ? " 

No one, ma'am," said John, quickly. I 
have in vain sought divine guidance in the 
matter. Of course I know it is a very impor- 
tant step, and must not be undertaken lightly, 
but I had quite expected before this to have 
had a ' leading' given me. Instead of which I 
feel like a man who has bought a picture frame 



AN IMPORTANT DECISION 



31 



and is trying to find something to put into it, 
but so far has searched hopelessly for anything 
at all suitable." 

" In that case," said Miss Matilda, looking 
much agitated, although she held herself with 
dignity, and her voice — always well-modulated 
and sweet — lost none of its calmness, '* our pro- 
posals are free to be made. But first let me 
assure you they are only suggestions, and you 
are quite at liberty to set them aside without 
even giving them a moment's consideration if 
they at all strike you as being — as being too 
difficult — perhaps formidable would be the 
better word — to be within reason." 

" I scarcely think any plan you ladies might 
suggest would strike me as being unreasonable," 
said honest John, quickly, adding, deferentially, 
"even if I did not quite fall in with it. Please 
let me hear what you have been so kindly 
thinking about in my interests. I feel it very 
good of you both, though it is more than in 
keeping with your unfailing acts of kindness to 
me in the past." 

This little speech gave Miss Matilda time to 
pluck up courage for the terrible announce- 
ment." Her manner was less agitated as she 
proceeded. 

" We know you are willing to meet us, if such 
a thing were possible, in the very trying matter 
of your leaving the Manor, and the proposal we 



32 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

are about to put before you, while you are per- 
fectly at liberty to refuse it, I would remind you 
your doing so would give us infinitely more pain 
than any difficulty your accepting it could 
create." 

The expression on John's face was one of 
profound dismay. Whatever was coming, Miss 
Matilda had contrived to put such meaning in 
her voice and words that she had prepared the 
way for a shock. He awaited the denouement 
with the eagerness of a child about to be taken 
into confidence over some appalling secret. 

At length it came. Miss Matilda had shifted 
her position slightly, pushing her chair a little 
further from the table; now she rose, and placing 
her right hand on a low bookcase (which 
stood within reach) to steady herself, she said, 
speaking slowly and distinctly, My sister and 
I propose you should change your position in 
this house. Instead of continuing a servant 
here, we would have you become the master, 
and this can only be done by your consenting 
to marry one of us ! " 

Every particle of colour forsook John's cheek 
as he grasped the meaning of Miss Matilda's 
speech. In vain he tried to find either voice 
or words wherewith to answer. In the pause 
which followed. Miss Matilda said, with what 
was meant to be a compassionate smile, one 
which John the butler could never have claimed 



AN IMPORTANT DECISION 



33 



but which John the friend was fully entitled to, 
" Be perfectly free to choose between us. 
Your choice, whatever it may be, will satisfy 
us both. We sisters will not be separated, and 
our trusted friend will have the right to manage 
the affairs of the Manor, which hitherto he has 
done most satisfactorily out of goodwill to our 
late dear father and to us ! " 

" Your condescension amazes me ! " exclaimed 
John, at last finding his voice. Surely," he 
added, looking down so as not to encounter 
Miss Matilda's glance, ''you honour me too 
much in such a proposal. Still — still, maybe 
things might be adjusted if you're not afraid of 
what the world would say." 

John, we have faced that question amongst 
others" — it was Miss Maria who spoke this 
time, feeling it was her bounden duty to sup- 
port her sister actively as well as passively — 
and do understand the only thing we are 
afraid of is losing your presence from our 
home!" 

As Miss Maria paused John looked up, a 
flush upon his pallid face. Advancing a step 
or two towards the lady who had just spoken, 
he said, in subdued tones, as if asking a favour 
of the one addressed, at the same time stating 
a fact which he considered settled once and for 
all, Then please, ma'am, you'll not take it 
amiss, I hope, if I make my choice of Miss 



34 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Matilda, and be^ you to allow me to take the 
honourable position of being your brother-in- 
law!" 

" You have chosen wisely, John," said Miss 
Maria, extending her hand to him. " I am 
sure, by-and-bye, when we get accustomed to 
changes, we shall be a very happy trio." 



CHAPTER IV 



THE BRIDEGROOM ELECT 

The news of the approaching marriage at the 
Manor House caused, as may be imagined, a 
great deal of gossip. There was scarcely a 
home for miles round where Miss Matilda 
Edgcombe's plans were not discussed ; perhaps 
they were not so much her own plans as the 
plans which others (as they passed the news 
from lip to • mouth) gathered around the one 
momentous fact of the forthcoming wedding. 

In reality, Miss Matilda Edgcombe had few 
plans. Even great events, be they earthquake 
shocks or violent thunderstorms, do not give a 
new nature to the ground upheaved or the tree 
lashed with the fury of the downpour — the 
ground is still the ground and the tree the tree. 
Miss Matilda Edgcombe, in spite of her 
romantic, almost sensational, engagement, was 
Miss Matilda Edgcombe still — the same gentle- 
natured, would - be - irresponsible lady whose 
somewhat colourless life glided on from day to 
day with rare, and for the most part most 
exceptional outbursts of energy, which proved 
the placid character had, somewhere below the 

35 



36 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

surface, hidden forces well to be reckoned 
with. 

To the few who ventured to offer congratula- 
tions on the world-phrased "happy event" 
(which had been freely recorded in the columns 
of the local papers) Miss Matilda said very 
little, and that little was strangely to the point. 

The marriage would mean but few changes, 
for John had always filled the place of a trusted 
friend since dear father's death left them so 
dependent," and so forth. 

To the relatives — none nearer than second 
cousins, of whom the sisters had seen next to 
nothing for some years past — when angry letters 
came with cruel criticism and scarcely less cruel 
remonstrance, the bride elect remained passively 
indifferent. 

" Many thanks for your kind letter," she 
wrote to one who had been even more bitter 
and outspoken than the rest. I am sure your 
intentions are good, but as to your advice I am 
afraid, as I did not ask for it, I must get you 
to allow me to return it to you intact," and 
she subscribed herself in that instance, Yours 
ever gratefully and obliged," which forever 
settled the matter of further interference from 
that direction. 

At this time but few outward changes had 
taken place. John insisted upon continuing his 
regular work. It would be inconvenient, to 



THE BRIDEGROOM ELECT 



37 



say nothing about its being inadvisable, to place 
another man in his position while he remained 
in the chrysalis stage of being late servant and 
future master of Edgcombe Manor House ; and 
as to going away for the time being, that was 
equally out of the question, for what would 
the ladies be able to do without him ? " 

So John Butler — for such was his real name 
— who, on and after the loth of the forthcoming 
October, was to be known as John Butler- 
Edgcombe (thus reversing the order of mar- 
riages in general in the matter of exchange of 
name) practically went on his way as aforetime. 
It was his own special privilege to wait upon 
"the ladies" at their meals — this he continued 
to do. Towards evening it had ever been his 
habit to come 'to the drawing-room the last thing 
to ask for any further orders before retiring for 
the night. He did so still; only now it was his 
wont to linger. He had many things to talk 
about, and from discussing the affairs of the 
house John would branch off to politics — he was 
in his way a good politician, well read, and with 
a well-balanced mind and sound judgment. 

Once the Misses Edgcombe had felt no 
interest in matters to which John had from his 
youth given keen attention, but to-day one of 
them at least had become anxious to know more 
of what was going on in the world, and John 
did his best to enlighten her. 



38 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

He had his own special way of looking at 
things, a way which had doubtless grow^n out of 
the conditions of his life. He was a farmer's 
youngest son, claiming a whole ancestry of tillers 
of the soil as his forebears. He came of a stock 
which had lived nine months of every twelve in 
the open air — men for the most part of clean, 
healthy lives, who developed their muscles in 
breaking up the land which they afterwards 
cultivated, and, with but little book-lore, learnt 
great and beautiful lessons from Nature. 

Up with the dawn and early to rest— the 
main anxiety of their very simple and common- 
place existence the crops and the weather ; men 
whose minds had never served an apprentice- 
ship to bodies enfeebled by luxurious living, or 
crippled and contracted by the crowded con- 
ditions of city life — the physical, then as now, so 
largely responsible for the mental and moral — 
John Butler had come of a good old stock, and 
he was justly proud of the fact. 

The womenkind, too, of his ancestry belonged 
to a race to whom fashion and frivolity were 
unknown quantities. Healthy in mind as in 
body, thrifty proclivities and habits of industry 
were as much a part of their possessions as 
were the homesteads and acres of farm land 
the lawful heritage of their men-folk. 

When quite young John Butler became page- 
boy at Edgcombe Manor House. It had been 



THE BRIDEGROOM ELECT 



39 



his dying mother's wish that he should be 
spared the roughing it " which had been the 
portion of his elder brothers. He was her 
baby, and, good soul, inasmuch as her own 
healthy constitution had felt the strain of 
bearing fifteen sons and daughters, besides 
attending to the dairy and carrying poultry and 
€ggs to market and doing the hundred and one 
things expected in those days of a farmer's wife, 
she "had a mind" to let young John ''take 
things a bit easy." He was a " better scholar" 
than the rest of the lads (in those days, of 
course, the girls were out of the reckon where 
scholastic comparisons were made), and ''she 
could see him quite well shape into the position 
of house servant at the Squire's until he would 
become an honour to the family, who would, of 
course, be proud to have one of their kith and 
kin brought up among gentlefolks. Who could 
tell ? maybe John would grow into a sort of 
gentleman himself one day." 

Coming from just such a country home, the 
son of just such parents as he called his own, 
John Butler started with advantages which did 
him good service in after life. He had a 
capacity for improvement, without which no 
one makes real mental or moral progress. He 
had escaped the various ills which the flesh of 
ordinary in-door servants is heir to — resenting 
imaginary wrongs, while regarding invariably 



40 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

those in authority as the secret enemies of 
those who served. He had never been self- 
assertive, and much less fawning" or ''curry- 
ing favour." John Butler had been all his life 
open-hearted, clear and clean-minded, fresh and 
free in expressing opinions which, however 
strongly held, never became fossilized into 
prejudices. 

His sympathy lay very largely with the 
working classes ; but he had lived so many 
years amongst "gentlefolks" (as he would 
explain, if questioned upon his views) that he 
regarded their ways and wants from quite a 
different standpoint than he probably would 
have done had he always lived amid his own 
class as one of themselves. 

Hence, in talking one evening to Miss 
Matilda about the rights of a certain political 
problem at that time engrossing much public 
attention, he observed, You will see that the 
rich do well to consider the needs of the poor, 
for w^hatever benefits and makes better the 
majority, benefits and blesses the world at 
large." 

And Miss Matilda had rejoined simply, 
" Yes, of course, it must be so," and had 
visions of a family in the village whose 
insanitary home had often beguiled a fever into 
the district, making other homes pay the penalty 
of their wrong-doings. She thought of the 



THE BRIDEGROOM ELECT 



41 



desperate effort which had been made to get 
the father and mother into a more thrifty life — 
clothes, food, and unlimited supervision on the 
Rector's part making a choice opportunity for 
reform — but only to prove a hopeless failure. 
Would this be so politically ? Would the rich 
do their best to influence and uplift the poor, 
and would it always be failure ? always be 
disappointment ? 

Honest John Butler thought Miss Matilda 
very good to let him talk to her as he did. He 
was continually assuring himself that the beauty 
of her soul was to be seen in her great 
humility : for did she not listen to his various 
observations as one awaiting information, and 
not as one whose superior education treated his 
opinions at a discount if not with scorn — as 
might have been the case? But then Miss 
Matilda Edgcombe would have to be some 
one else, and he, John Butler, would not be 
making plans for the future, to be put in force 
when his position as master of the Manor House 
gave him the right to rule and regulate the 
affairs of the home and its surroundings. 

Now, while John Butler admired Miss 
Matilda Edgcombe's magnitude of mind in 
conversing with him as an equal, he never for 
a moment lost sight of the fact that she had 
possessions which he lacked. She could claim 
the heritage of an ancestry which had thought 

D 



42 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

with enlightened mind while living the life of 
cultured ease ; at the same time he was justly- 
proud of his own ancestors and the heritage of 
honest, healthful toil to which he had himself 
been born. 

And so the summer passed. Quaintly and 
quietly John accepted the responsibilities of his 
new position. During the day, as we have 
said, he served with faithful service the two 
ladies for whose every want it had been his 
custom for so many years to care. Towards 
evening he found his way — each night a little 
earlier — to the drawing-room to spend the time 
at his disposal in conversation, varied by a game 
of chess, the Squire having initiated him in the 
art of chess-playing as far back as when he was 
a page-boy. At ten o'clock, by the unalterable 
law of habit, the house retired to rest, after 
prayers had been read by Miss Maria, all the 
servants being present. At this function John 
would take the seat which had been his for so 
many years — his chair in a line with the house- 
hold staff, but placed by itself. The Squire 
had suggested this plan to help his butler to 
maintain the dignity due to his position. To- 
day John liked best to let things remain as 
they were." He would not anticipate his 
rights. 

At length the lOth of October dawned. 
This was the wedding-day. An hour s talk had 



THE BRIDEGROOM ELECT 



43 



served to plan out all details. The brougham 
would take the two sisters and John to church, 
then, the service over, would take John and 
one sister to the railway station. 

Miss Maria would be guest at the Rectory 
during the honeymoon, for, although the 
Rector most emphatically disapproved of the 
marriage, showing that disapproval by insisting 
that Gertrude discontinued for the present all 
intercourse at the Manor House, he still wished 
to stand well in the neighbourhood, and there- 
fore did what he thought his parishioners might 
deem a kindly thing under these very special 
circumstances. 

The bride and bridegroom were to spend a 
brief week at Brighton. It seemed right to go 
away ; other people followed this course, hence 
it would be expected of them ; otherwise both 
would have preferred to let matters go on as 
usual at the Manor House, and have no break 
to chronicle in their lives — no break, but a 
change. 

Very nervous and agitated both sisters looked 
when at length, a few moments before eleven 
o'clock, the gong sounded — a usual signal to 
say the carriage was at the door. 

" You will not forget to take your beef tea 
every morning at eleven, Maria," said Matilda 
as she kissed the faded cheek of her elder sister; 
and do let Gertrude sleep in the chair-bed in 



44 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



your room if you feel it lonely at the Rectory. 
You will find your cough mixture in your 
dressing-bag ; I thought it would be safest 
there." 

You will match that shade of silk for me at 
Brighton," said Miss Maria, whose tear-dimmed 
eyes showed all too plainly how much she was 
feeling the parting from her sister. " They say 
the clear air of Brighton is so excellent for 
shading silks!" 

By this time they were on the broad stair- 
case descending to the hall below. John stood 
awaiting them, hat in hand. He opened the 
brougham door for them, as he had done for 
many a long year, so standing as to guard their 
draperies from coming in contact with the wheel. 
As he placed a light rug over the knees of the 
two, Miss Matilda said, in a voice which shook 
with suppressed feeling, You must come 
inside to-day, John ! " 

To which he made quiet answer — Not 
ingoing' to church. I will take my place, please, 
as usual on the box now. Afterwards I will 
come inside if you are good enough to invite 
me ! " 

And so it happened that one of the many 
strange things talked about that day was how 
the bridegroom sat on the box-seat of the 
brougham which took his bride to church. 



CHAPTER V 



HOW GERTRUDE CAME TO LEAVE HOME 

Gertrude Hastings suffered a great loss when 
forbidden by her parents to continue her visits 
to the Manor House. 

''You understand me, Gertrude," the Rector 
had said with authority, " I mean to be obeyed 
in this matter. I consider, in my position here, 
it is a very 'legitimate stand to take against 
what I believe to be Matilda Edgcombe's gross 
blunder. What right has she to lower the 
dignity of a family which can trace its ancestry 
back to the time of William the Conqueror, by 
contracting a marriage with one who has 
occupied the position of a servant in the house- 
hold ? The idea is preposterous. Indeed, I go 
further and say it is simply insanity of a most 
hopeless kind, and nothing on earth can justify 
the step ! " 

But why, if you think all this, papa," said 
Gertrude, tearfully, '' why do you not go and 
persuade Aunt Matilda to reconsider what she 
is doing? If it is so very wicked, surely, as the 
clergyman of the parish, it is for you to point 

45 



46 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

out the fact, and — and — lead poor auntie to 
repentance ? " 

Gertrude had spoken with spirit in spite of 
her tears. It must be admitted it had come to 
her as a great shock the announcement of Miss 
Matilda Edgcombe's engagement, but such was 
her faith in that good woman that she could 
only allow she had every right to do what she 
believed to be best, and if such were her 
decision, then it left no room for argument or 
dispute. Hence Gertrude had accepted the 
fact, although regretfully, and as far as her 
own mind was concerned, treasured no irritable 
or unpleasant thought about the matter. 

**Why do I not discuss the question with 
Matilda Edgcombe?" said the Rector, hotly. 

Simply for the same reason that I should 
never dream of going to Colney Hatch to argue 
a point with one of the lunatics there. The 
discussion would be all on one side. Matilda 
Edgcombe is, I tell you, insane in the matter of 
her engagement, and as obstinate as a mule 
when she has once made up her mind to a 
thing. It would be sheer waste of time to 
approach the subject further than I have done. 
This makes it all the more necessary for me to 
put my foot down where I have the right to do 
so, and that is in regard to your visiting the 
Manor House as hitherto. I object to it, Ger- 
trude, in toto, and having said that, as you have 



HOW GERTRUDE CAME TO LEAVE HOME 47 

learnt your catechism and know the fifth com- 
mandment, I do not expect to hear a word by 
way of demur or contradiction from yourself! " 

But, papa, they have been so good to me 
always," said Gertrude, brushing her tears away 
and speaking very earnestly. From a tiny tot 
their loving thought and care have been just 
like summer sunshine to me." 

Bosh ! " interrupted the indignant Rector. 
" What a foolish thing to say, Gertrude, inferring 
that life at home was like winter dulness. 
I tell you it is mere sentiment, and you must 
eliminate it at once from your mind. Of course 
the Misses Edgcombe were kind to you. Do 
you think it was nothing to them to have a 
bright, young creature like yourself flitting 
backwards and forwards ? Well, they can do 
without you now. They will have John the 
butler to entertain them. Bah ! Think of ^/^a^ 
man in a position to call a daughter of mine 
' my dear,' or in any way to play the host to 
her!" 

Still, Gertrude stood her ground. The tear- 
ful mood- had passed, and she looked as one 
suffering wrong, appealing not to sympathy but 
to justice. Her face was flushed ; her eyes 
sparkled. 

There will, I know, be many to condemn 
Aunt Matilda's action," she said, thoughtfully, 
*'and most of these will hear nothing at all about 



48 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

her reasons ; but, papa, they will not be real 
friends of any value. I mean they have so 
few real friends ; now, I am a real friend, and 
that is why I feel it would be most mean and 
despicable to stay away just because Aunt 
Matilda chose to do something which other 
people said she should not do. It seems to me 
so unjust to her to leave her all to herself just 
now ! " 

"My dear Gertrude," exclaimed the Rector, 
laughing, ''you are a dear little innocent, and 
it is quite right for you to put on these pretty 
airs and graces. I have not the slightest objec- 
tion to your doing so, but, you understand, I 
mxan to be obeyed. I do not forbid your 
calling occasionally at the Manor House with 
your mother, but I do forbid your remaining on 
the friendly footing which has hitherto existed. 
Why, bless my soul, you have pretty well lived 
at the Manor House all your life. I think it is 
time for you to devote yourself to home and its 
duties. There, you must leave me now, for I 
have my Sunday morning sermon to write." 

And Gertrude withdrew from her father's 
study, a little hurt, a good deal angry, and with 
a mind which had aged perceptibly during 
that painful interview. 

From that day Gertrude Hastings ceased to 
be the thoughtless, laughter-loving girl. Life 
had suddenly grown very serious to her. No 



HOW GERTRUDE CAME TO LEAVE HOME 49 

one heard her complain, but all at home were 
conscious that she was in some way changed. 
Her mother thought her engagement with 
Aubrey Rice was giving her a sense of responsi- 
bility which checked her usually high spirits. 
Her father said it was time for her to settle 
down ; she had always been more or less of a 
butterfly. He liked girls of her age to become 
staid — and so forth. Strangely enough, no one 
associated her low spirits with the severe strain 
which the Rector had imposed upon her in 
bidding her absent herself entirely from the 
Manor House. 

Thus the time had passed ushering in the 
wedding day. The Rector had most magnani- 
mously consented, as we have seen, to marry 
the two whose coming together he so entirely 
disapproved of Miss Maria's visit had put 
the Rectory in a pleasant little bustle. No one 
could quite forget that they were entertaining 
Miss Edgcombe of Edgcombe Manor House- 
Gertrude excepted. She, poor girl, regained 
for the time being her lost youth in devoting 
herself to Aunt Maria," and accompanying 
her to and fro to prepare the bride s home for 
her reception. All too soon this delightful 
break in her — at that time — weird existence 
came to an end. The Manor House had 
received its new master, and in the very act 
became forbidden ground to Gertrude Hastings. 



50 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

It is difficult to explain by what rule the 
Rector found peace to his own conscience in 
sacrificing his daughters happiness. Mrs. 
Hastings did venture more than once to plead 
for less stringent measures, but with no avail. 

Meanwhile Gertrude busied herself about 
the house in a most exemplary manner. At 
the time of which we write the cultured classes 
thought their womenkind at their best when 
most domesticated. Such as could afford to 
leave the household matters in the hands of 
servants would devote every available activity 
and healthy energy of mind and body to 
artistic needlework, varying the day's employ- 
ment by arranging flowers and dusting some 
well-preserved old china. 

For years Gertrude Hastings^ sisters had 
lived this kind of life, and she herself had only 
been spared it by her constant visits to the 
Manor House. When these ceased she, not 
unnaturally, found great difficulty in settling 
down to the uneventful every-day-alike life at 
the Rectory. 

I wish I just happened to be Nellie Moore, 
the draper's daughter, and not Miss Gertrude 
Hastings of the Rectory," exclaimed Gertrude 
one morning early in January, as she came 
home after going down to the parish with her 
father. How lovely it must be to be quite 
free — absolutely independent ; the social 



HOW GERTRUDE CAME TO LEAVE HOME 5 I 

fetters which bind us so firmly to an aimless 
life at home actually broken — snapped in two ! " 

How would it help you to be Nellie 
Moore ? " enquired her eldest sister, not lifting- 
her eyes from the work which she held in her 
hand. 

" Oh," said Gertrude, " I have had the most 
delightful account of Nellie Moore's new depar- 
ture in life. She grew tired of millinery, and 
has obtained a situation at the Hill Farm as 
nursery governess. She has quite a short 
day there, and earns twelve pounds a year for 
pocket money. The children are positively 
charming, Mrs Moore says, and Nellie is per- 
fectly happy ! " 

And you v/ould like to go out as a ' nursery 
governess'?" enquired Jane Hastings, and this 
time she eyed Gertrude carefully. 

'*Of course I would," exclaimed the one 
addressed. ''It would mean settled occupation 
for one thing, and for another I should be 
earning some golden guineas to expend in any 
way I thought best." 

''You forget you are a lady, born and bred," 
exclaimed Jane, putting a very dainty little hand 
to her mouth to hide a gape. " Ladies do not 
earn golden guineas for pocket money ; that 
privilege is some compensation to our less for- 
tunate sisters, who are born in a position which 
is socially far beneath our own." 



52 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

I don't see what need they have of compen- 
sation," exclaimed Gertrude with warmth. 

They are at least born in a station in life 
where work is admitted. I used to envy Nellie 
as I saw her twirling those bits of finery into 
pretty knots and bows, and wonder at the good 
fate which always brought them to the right 
spot on the bonnet or hat she happened to be 
trimming at the time. I envy her much more 
now she is engaged in teaching those little farm 
children ! " 

" Gertrude, your engagement with Aubrey 
Rice is spoiling you," said Jane. A year ago 
you would have found it impossible to talk as 
you are doing now. As the promised wife of a 
city clerk — " 

I am thinking it is awfully hard upon a man 
for a girl to sit down idly and let her future 
husband do all the uphill work of planting the 
home he wants her to share with him," said 
Gertrude, brightly. " I would fain take my fair 
division in the effort. Why not? The mere 
thought of doing this gives some dignity to life, 
which is almost unendurable in its enforced 
idleness to-day." 

Silly child, you talk like a book by a very 
secondary writer," said Jane Hastings in a tone 
of severe criticism. " How can you compare 
Nellie Moore's position to your own .'^ You are 
in a cultured home, mistress of your own time 



HOW GERTRUDE CAME TO LEAVE HOME 53 

and actions, with unlimited opportunities of 
enjoyment one way or another. My dear 
girl, do not let father or mother hear you 
speak in the way you have just done. I am 
sure it would annoy them extremely." 

Jane thought exactly what she spoke at the 
time, and yet, in a few weeks from that day, 
she was herself pleading earnestly with the 
Rector to gratify Gertrude's intense desire, and 
allow her to leave home for a while. 

I am sure she will only fret at home, 
father," this wise sister said, very seriously. 
**You have forbidden her the Manor House 
on the old terms, and she finds it so difficult 
to employ the time on her hands now. It 
surely could not hurt her in the end to see a 
little of life in the' capacity she is so anxious to 
fill as governess or companion. Remember, 
you have already consented to her engagement 
with a city clerk. Can there be any harm in 
allowing her the practical training which will 
fit her for a poor man's wife ? " 

You forget, Jane," said the Rector, quietly, 
" Aubrey Rice is no mere ordinary clerk. He 
has great expectations from some of his relatives. 
Although himself a churchman, he comes from 
a good old Quaker ancestry, and many of his 
people are to-day amongst the most cultured in 
the land — I have Lord Horrick's word for this — 
while at the same time associated with that. 



54 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



prosperity in their various callings which means 
wealth. I expect Gertrude will be the wife of 
a rich man. The day will come — and, I doubt 
not, speedily — when Aubrey will be able to give 
up his present employment and become a country 
gentleman. He has the making of the country 
squire in him — he can ride and drive and shoot 
as well as any man I know of his age. The 
marvel to me is that his father was satisfied to 
send him straight from Marlboro' into an insur- 
ance office without letting him go to the 'Varsity, 
but then he was a poor man himself — a country 
lawyer with limited success and crude notions. 
He died quite a young man, from all I can 
hear, and Aubrey very early became the main 
support of his widowed mother." 

I expect he will be as staid as old times," 
said Jane, appreciatively, *'when he and Gertrude 
settle down in a home of their own, but mean- 
while, father, do you not think it would be wise 
to let Birdie take up teaching for a while ? " 

Jane was the only one at the Rectory who 
ever used the Manor House pet name for 
Gertrude. Possibly she did this purposely at 
that moment, for the Rector winced, reminded 
all at once of the great trial which had befallen 
Gertrude since Miss Matilda's marriage had 
made it inadvisable for her to visit her old 
friends as aforetime. 

He was there and then a little softened, and 



HOW GERTRUDE CAME TO LEAVE HOME 55 



when an hour or two later the family doctor 
looked in because happening to be passing," 
and said, carelessly enough, but evidently with 
intention, I think, Rector, Miss Gertrude 
needs a change. Why don't you let her follow 
her pet hobby for a time ? Get her into a nice 
family as companion t-o an only daughter, or 
governess to young children, and it will do her 
all the good in the world ! She is moping and 
out of spirits altogether, and of course it will 
tell upon her general health. Mind you, I 
don't say you were wrong in keeping her from 
the Manor House, but you have taken away 
her occupation, and, in justice to herself, you 
should not stand out if she has a mind to follow 
her bent in, another direction." 

The Rector made answer by writing down 
hurriedly upon a half sheet of paper the follow- 
ing advertisement, which he read out to Dr. 
Maynard in a tone which was more aggressive 
than genial : — 

"Wanted, by a Clergyman's daughter, a post in a 
family of culture either as Companion or Governess 
to young children. A pleasant home and occupation 
desired. Salary of no importance. Apply by letter 
only to G. H., Times Office." 

**Just the thing!" exclaimed Dr. Maynard, 
gleefully. He was fond of Gertrude, and felt 
extremely for her under the Rector's severe 
rule. Now we will see how many cultured 



56 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

homes open their doors to your daughter! 
Allow me to drop the letter in the post; I shall 
be passing and it will save time." 

Umph ! " said the Rector, smiling ; not a 
bad idea,' Maynard, for, should her mother raise 
any objection, I could put the responsibility on 
your shoulders." 

And that is how it happened that Gertrude 
Hastings a few days later found herself in 
the very exciting position of having to choose 
between the various homes offered to her in 
answer to the Times advertisement. 

She felt much drawn to one — companion to 
a little girl of ten, blind from her birth and very 
delicate. No teaching would be required, as a 
teacher from the Blind School near came daily 
for a few hours ; but when upon enquiry it was 
found that the father of the little girl was a 
tradesman, the Rector absolutely opposed his 
daughter's acceptance of the engagement. 

"No, no," he said, gravely, '*we must draw 
the line somewhere. I can allow no associations 
with Trade. It would at once become a family 
disgrace. It is bad enough as it is that a 
daughter of mine should be * in employment.' " 

Hence Gertrude had to give up the blind 
girl and make another selection. 



CHAPTER VI 



AUBREY rice's SECRET 

A SWEET-FACED woman, faded and worn to 
preternatural thinness, stood on a doorstep of a 
pretty suburban villa, leisurely searching in her 
pocket for a latch-key. Her bearing was that 
of a perfect lady ; her movements were full of 
that indescribable grace which denotes certain 
culture and courtesy, although everything was 
a little suggestive of feebleness and age. 
Suddenly some one joined her with a buoyantly 
uttered Well, mother ! " 

And th^n the old lady's face literally beamed 
with happiness as, placing her ungloved hand 
on his arm, she said with animation, My son 
Aubrey, what joy to see thee ! I have been to 
meet thy brother Harold, and the train was 
late, but he did not come. He will be here 
to-morrow, dost thou not think ? " 

Surely, mother," was the reply, spoken 
cheerfully, if not hopefully. Let us get some 
tea now. You look as if you wanted yours, 
and I am sure I do mine." 

By this time Aubrey Rice had opened the 
door with his own latch-key, and he and his 



E 



57 



58 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



mother had passed into the little sitting-room 
which lay to the right of the small hall. The 
table was set for tea, a bright fire burnt in the 
grate, and the room was lighted by a lamp 
which hung from the ceiling. 

The gentle old lady who had greeted her son 
so warmly threw off her shawl as if it were 
quite a relief to be free from it, and untied her 
bonnet strings, seating herself in an arm-chair 
by the fire. Up to this chair Aubrey moved a 
small table, and very quietly placed upon it a 
cup of tea, bread and butter, and a little pre- 
served fruit. An elderly servant had brought 
in the teapot through a doorway leading from 
the kitchen. 

" Now, sweet mother, eat away," Aubrey 
Rice said cheerfully, as he spread out the 
tempting meal upon the little table. " I want 
to see how soon you can finish, that we may 
have a nice cosy time together before I get to 
my work." 

" I do not feel just inclined for food," said the 
old lady, with a sigh. Thou seest, dear, I 
have had such a disappointment in not finding 
thy brother Harold in the train. But he will 
come to-morrow." 

" Surely, surely," replied her son, as he 
moved off to the table where his own more 
substantial tea was awaiting him. After a little 
while, having well eaten, and noticing that his 



AUBREY rice's SECRET 



59 



mother s food was still untasted, he opened the 
door leading into the kitchen. Sarah ! " he 
called to the elderly servant, who was quick 
to come, **just look after your mistress for a 
few minutes, and coax her to take some tea. I 
suppose no letters have come for me since the 
morning ? " this in an undertone. 

**Oh yes, sir, I forgot," exclaimed Sarah, 
diving into the depths of an old-fashioned 
pocket, " this one came at noon." 

" Thank you for taking care of it," said 
Aubrey Rice as he took possession of the letter 
in question and hastened from the room. He 
was quick to ascend the pretty carpeted stair- 
case, and to find his way to a small and simply 
furnished room which he called his "den." A 
lounge chair, a bookcase well filled with books 
in substantial binding, a small square table with 
a leg at each corner — hence firm in its footing— 
(upon which were placed a writing-case and 
inkstand), an old-fashioned high cupboard, 
which by touching a spring let down into a bed 
— this fairly describes the furniture in detail. 

The room communicated with another of 
much larger dimensions — indeed, one was in- 
tended to be the dressing-room to the other. 
The apartment into which Aubrey s had access 
was his mother's sleeping room. For years it 
had been his habit to leave the intervening door 
partly open at night that he might be quick to 



6d the romance of an emergency 

hear if his mother were restless, and prompt to 
urge her to return to her pillow for a few hours 
longer if she rose too early, eager to be up and 
dressed. 

Throwing himself into his comfortable lounge 
chair — after lighting a small gas fire which 
stood in the grate, and a miniature lamp hang- 
ing over the mantelpiece — Aubrey Rice broke 
the seal of the letter which he had held firmly 
all the time in his left hand. 

He was soon deep in its contents. Midway 
he paused, and striking his hand upon his knee 
exclaimed, By Jove, but isn't this plucky of 
Gertrude ! Oh, if I could only explain it to 
mother, how it would please her ! " He read 
the sentence which had called forth this remark 
over again — 

I know I have something in me better than 
a life of complete ease calls forth, with perplex- 
ing wool-work designs the nearest approach to 
toil. I want to be spending my life more 
usefully than working patterns on canvas. I 
could do that if I chanced to be an invalid, but 
I am strong, and long for real work. What 
can hurt any one in good, honest labour ? I am 
quite sure it is the enforced idleness (like mine 
has become since I was cut off from the Manor 
House) which destroys and spoils our existence 
just as the caterpillars eat holes in the rose 
leaves until the roses are not worth gathering. 



AUBREY rice's SECRET 



6i 



I told papa the other day I wished he would sit 
in our pew and let me go into the pulpit and 
preach a little sermon to parents who, through 
mistaken kindness, were afraid to let their 
daughters do any work — I do not mean play- 
work, but real work. I am telling you all this 
to prepare you for what has actually taken 
place. I am going to be nursery governess 
to two little girls belonging to a clergyman's 
family. I am to have fifteen pounds a year as 
my salary — a month's holiday in the summer 
and three weeks at Christmas — " 

It was almost an hour afterwards when 
Aubrey joined his mother in the little sitting- 
room. Sarah had cleared away the tea-things 
and removed her mistress's outdoor garments. 
Seen without her bonnet, Mrs. Rice looked 
fully the Quaker lady that she was. Her neat, 
frilled cap, close-fitting to the face ; her silken 
gown, ample in its folds, but nowhere long 
enough to touch the ground ; the white mull 
muslin kerchief over her shoulders, all were 
tokens of her being a Friend. Aubrey's arrival 
was the signal for Sarah to withdraw. The old 
lady sat in her arm-chair gazing into the fire ; a 
dreamy look was upon her face. She noticed 
her son's entrance in the room, but until he had 
actually taken his seat beside her, lifting one of 
her hands — such little hands too — and holding 



62 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

it in both of his, she did not attempt to speak. 
Then she talked as if continuing a conversation 
which had been interrupted — He wrote so 
cheerfully ; he was having such a happy time 
with young Lord Horrick, but of course he 
would spend Christmas with us ; of course he 
would, dear boy. How could we spend ours 
without him ? And then, you see, he told me 
by which train he came, and I went so glad to 
meet him, but alas ! he was not there. I 
thought I had made a mistake, so I met the 
next train and the next ; why, Aubrey, I am 
always meeting trains and he has not come yet! 
He will ; he must come soon. To-morrow, by 
the early train, perhaps ? Oh, Aubrey, thou 
wilt wake betimes and call me, my son ? I 
must be there before the train is signalled." 

■ ' I will be very sure to call you, mother 
dear," said Aubrey, fondly stroking the hand 
he clasped so firmly, ''but," he added, "what 
would you like to do now before Sarah helps 
you to bed, dear ? May I read to you, or shall 
I sing one of your favourite songs " 

"No, no, lad," said the old lady, softly, "I'm 
over-tired just now, and thou hast work to do. 
I'll hie me to bed lest I should over-sleep me in 
the morn, and Harold's train come in and his 
mother not be there." 

" But, dearest, I have something I want to 
tell you," said Aubrey, speaking slowly. " I have 



AUBREY rice's SECRET 



63 



waited long to tell you some news you should 
have been the very first to hear, only your mind 
was filled with busy thoughts about Harold. 
But come, you could listen to-night, surely. 
Will you try, just for my sake ? " 

No, no," said the old lady, rising with 
dignity, I cannot, must not give my thoughts 
to other things lest I am late in meeting 
Harold's train. When he is safely home I will 
sit, and sit with him beside me, and thou shalt 
tell me all thy news. Good night, my son. 
God spare both me and thee to meet in the 
morning light ! " 

Aubrey had risen when his mother did, and 
now he stooped over her with tender fondness, 
and kissed again and again her faded cheek. 
She made no response, her thoughts being 
fully engrossed. Then Sarah was summoned, 
and the old lady led gently out of the room to 
bed. 

Soon, when he heard the servant return to 
the kitchen, Aubrey turned the lamp out in the 
sitting-room, locked up the front door for the 
night, and took himself off to his den." He 
had a letter to write, one he had long wished 
to get off his mind, but again and again it had 
been delayed. Still, the moment had come 
when to remain silent would mean almost to 
deceive. It was more than hopeless to get his 
mother's attention. How many, many times 



64 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

the scene of to-night had been repeated. 
Indeed, how little variety there was in his daily 
home-coming, and what took place immediately 
afterwards ! 

How often it happened that he found his 
mother on the doorstep trying to let herself in 
with her latch-key ! How like one day was to 
another in the experience about the evening 
meal ! His efforts to get her to eat were 
usually baffled. It was the faithful servant 
Sarah who was generally called in to coax her 
mistress to take food," and invariably it was 
when trying to bring some other subject before 
her that the old lady pleaded weariness, and 
moved off to bed. 

And yet, Aubrey Rice had been engaged 
over six months to Gertrude Hastings, and he 
had never yet had the courage to tell her that 
the mother of whom he had always spoken so 
tenderly was a harmless lunatic. 

To-night it must be done. Gertrude had 
shown herself to be a girl of great pluck. The 
story of her own plans revealed her in an 
altogether new character. She was not only 
the fascinating, light-hearted girl whose love 
it had been his good fortune to win, but she 
was a woman of courageous spirit, preferring 
work to idleness, determined to live as far as 
possible up to her own conviction of what a 
useful life should be. 



AUBREY rice's SECRET 



65 



By what right did he withhold the pathetic 
facts which were so closely interwoven with his 
own home-life ? 

Hence it happened that the next day but one 
Gertrude Hastings received a letter which filled 
her heart with sympathy of a kind never before 
awakened, and caused her to think more highly 
than ever of her hero-lover. She had known 
from the first of her acquaintance with him, 
from the fi-iends at whose house they met, of 
Aubrey Rice's unselfish and self-sacrificing life 
at home ; but no word had been whispered in 
reference to the mother to whom he was so 
devoted, beyond the fact of her being an 
invalid. 

" Forgive me, Gertrude," the letter ran, if 
I have kept back from you what it was more 
than your right 'to know, thinking of the fact 
from the world's point of view. I have been 
silent, only awaiting a fitting time to speak, yet 
each week feeling less inclined to burden my 
darling with an unhappy secret which cannot 
but throw my own life in shadow. 

*' Let me tell you a story which goes back five 
years — -at least, it was five years on the 24th of 
December last. My poor father had been dead 
about six months, and my elder brother Harold 
and I had determined to devote our lives to our 
dear mother by giving all our leisure hours — 
we were both insurance office clerks — to study, 



66 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

which would help us eventually, either by 
teaching or in literary work, to add to the 
income which was her chief support (chief but 
not absolute, for my poor father had bought 
her an annuity of /^loo a year). Harold had 
formed a great friendship when at Marlborough 
with Guy Manville, Lord Horrick's second 
son, who is, as you know, abroad, and wishing 
to consult him in reference to some London 
University examinations which he was anxious 
to work up for, he begged a couple of days off 
work before Christmas on the understanding at 
the office that he would forego his claim to a 
holiday after Christmas. He went down to 
Moxdale Hall on the Thursday, and was to 
return home the following Monday, Christmas 
Eve, so that our dear mother should have us 
both on Christmas Day. 

He wrote to us on Friday night a letter 
brimful of pleasure. Lord Horrick had been 
so good to him in many ways. Guy was all 
sympathy with him in his plans and ambitions. 
Our poor mother, who had grieved much at my 
dear father's death, was quite excited over this, 
and very eager to see Harold back, to hear 
fuller details of all that had been said and done. 

When at length Christmas Eve arrived 
nothing would do but she must go to the 
station to meet Harold's train. (I was late at 
the office that night, doing duty partly for a 



AUBREY rice's SECRET 



67 



clerk who worked with me, and who had in the 
dinner hour met with an accident which had 
necessitated his being taken to a hospital.) 

" My mother went down to the station alone 
and awaited Harold's train, which was over an 
hour late. When it at length came in it 
brought the cruel news that a gentleman, * by 
name Harold Rice,' was lying dead in a first- 
class carriage. Sudden illness (a broken blood- 
vessel on the brain), and death within a few 
moments. A doctor, summoned hastily from 
another part of the train by Harold's frightened 
fellow-travellers, at one of the stoppages, pro- 
nounced life to be extinct ; and as it was within 
ten miles of our station, it had been deemed 
best, on the spur of the moment, to leave him 
where he was, the doctor agreeing to be locked 
in the carriage with him for the rest of the 
journey. 

Imagine what it must have been to poor 
mother, looking in vain on the arrival of the 
train for her expected son, to hear whispers of 
an accident, and — for she was recognised by 
some officials on the platform — to be told, 
kindly enough doubtless, but all too plainly, 
that her son was dead. The shock turned her 
brain. That she only partly understood the 
full meaning of the cruel news they sought to 
break is evident, for from that day (now over 
five years ago) she has devoted her life to 



68 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

meeting all the trains which come on to the 
platform where she awaited Harold that night. 

" The first up train of importance is due at 
10.5 a.m., and she is always there to meet it. 
She passes from one carriage to another, look- 
ing earnestly for her expected boy. When at 
length the train moves on she will go to the 
ladies' waiting room and await the next. She 
speaks quite openly to any one who may address 
her. * She has come to meet her son,' and will 
tell them of Harold's cleverness, the comfort he 
has always been to her, her hopes concerning 
him in the future, and so on, breaking away 
when another train comes in, with an apology 
* but she must be on the platform to receive 
him or he would be disappointed.' At i o'clock 
she regularly goes home to dinner, unless the 
12.50 chances to be late, when she sees it in, 
returning for the 2.20 and remaining until the 
5.30 has come in, after which she returns slowly 
home with the air of one much disappointed. 

** She is perfectly harmless. I have taken the 
best medical advice possible, and leave her to 
live her life out in this manner as the happier 
alternative to placing her * under care.' To 
keep her at home means to give her full liberty. 
A faithful servant — once our nurse, who has 
been with us for over twenty years — looks after 
her interest in the house. Dear mother is most 
tractable and quiet ; only in one way is she 



AUBREY rice's SECRET 



69 



difificult, and that is that she will open every 
letter which comes to the house, believing it to 
be from Harold to herself. Sarah has to be very- 
watchful in this respect. Ycur letters usually 
find a home in her pocket until my return to 
claim them. 

"And now, my dear Gertrude, having at 
length told you my sad secret, will you some 
day be afraid to come and see my dear mother? 

In vain I have endeavoured to talk to her 
about you ; she has no thought free for anything 
outside her own life. Once I put your photo- 
graph in her work-basket. I watched her lift it 
up and put aside without so much as a glance. 
I called her attention to it, and she talked of 
Harold and gave no heed. 

Only do our friends at Moxdale Hall think 
of my poor mother as *an invalid.' At first I 
kept back the train trouble, expecting daily it 
would pass away. The doctors held out hopes 
that such would be the case; but, alas, no 
change has come in all these years, and I have 
grown to accept the inevitable. And now that 
I have shared my sad secret with you, I feel a. 
thousand times happier. Of course I had no 
thought of keeping you in ignorance in the 
matter ; but I have hoped against hope my dear 
mother might recover her brain power and 
write to you herself, inviting you to come and 
stay with us. ' I fear * staying ' is now quite out 



70 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

of the question, but if you would consent to 
come over for a few hours we might arrange it; 
only, remember, if you arrive during the train- 
meeting time, we shall have to seek her at the 
railway station, where you will see for yourself 
the picture I have described." 



CHAPTER VII 



THE NEW SQUIRE "AT HOME " 

The Rector had taken infinite trouble to 
explain to his friends and acquaintances that 
his daughter Gertrude had not left home, to 
use a vulgar phrase, to earn her own living," 
but to gratify a childish whim, which he fully 
expected would not be very long-lived. 

Every one understood without the telling how 
greatly opposed he had been to the Manor 
House marriage." The Rev. Archibald Hast- 
ings was known to be a proud man. Every 
year of his residence as Rector of Edgcombe 
Parish Church had emphasised the fact. His 
everyday * dealings with his parishioners had 
given force to it, while his occasional speeches 
on political platforms in towns hard by had led 
to further certainty in the matter. 

He was much given to quoting his titled 
relatives, nominally as supporters of his own 
views, but in reality to identify his affinity with 
the aristocracy. My brother-in-law, the Earl 
of Nottage, who, poor fellow, met with an early 
death from a fall from his horse, was in the 
habit of saying," &c. ; or, My cousin, Lord 



72 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Chittick, has often observed to me " so and so. 
How could he be expected to take kindly to the 
gruesome marriage at the Manor House? The 
marvel was that he consented to perform the 
ceremony, but as the living was in the gift of 
the ladies of the Manor, he doubtless felt it to 
be a duty to carry out the task imposed upon 
him. 

Would he visit at the Manor House as in the 
days of the late Squire ? This was the ques- 
tion which agitated the minds of the gossips. 
Everything had gone quietly enough since the 
return of the bride and bridegroom from their 
honeymoon. But few changes had been made 
on the staff of servants. The new butler, who 
had been duly appointed, was one who had 
served his apprenticeship at the Manor House 
under the late butler as page-boy. He was 
a quiet, inoffensive young man, who never 
gossiped in the village. The housekeeper, 
from whom might have been expected a little 
special news from time to time, passed on by 
her dressmaker, the postmaster's daughter, had 
'Meft of her own accord," as she was proud to 
say, not relishing the fact of her fellow-servant 
becoming her master, ''to say nothing of the 
delicate attentions he had been in the habit of 
paying to herself for quite ten years or more." 
Hence the village folk felt greatly cut off from 
the Manor House, all the other servants belong- 



THE NEW SQUIRE **AT HOME " 



73 



ing to distant homes, the said late housekeeper's 
method of creating her own monopoly of gossip 
by bringing her maids from far-off parishes. 

It was with real excitement that the post 
office — the village centre of news — heard from 
no less an authority than good Dr. Maynard 
that there was going to be a gentlemen's dinner 
party at the Manor House, and the Rector was 
to be amongst the guests, and as chance 
happened that Mr. Aubrey Rice, Miss Gertrude s 
fiance, was spending a day or two at the 
Rectory, he was also to be there. 

This was absolutely the first sign of hospi- 
tality which the Manor House had given since 
the new master took up his position there. 
How it came to pass the village gossips would 
never know, for the little plan had come to life, 
and been discussed and settled in the sacred 
precincts of Mrs. Butler - Edgcombe's own 
boudoir. It had arisen on this wise. 

" Do you not think, John, it might be well for 
us very occasionally to entertain guests as we 
did in dear father's time ? I expect the village 
and neighbourhood feel neglected somewhat." 
Matilda Edgcombe had said this very cautiously, 
as if feeling her way with her husband of now 
some five months' standing. 

"If you think it right, my dear," said the new 
Squire, putting down the newspaper which he 
had been reading to give full attention to his 

F 



74 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

wife, I have no objection. After the Rector's 
unkindness in forbidding Miss Gertrude to keep 
up her pleasant friendship here, you would not 
perhaps think it necessary to include him in the 
invitation ? " 

The question was put quietly, but the 
speaker's face had flushed in proof of the 
feeling which lay beneath the words. 

Oh, I think, John, we should do well to 
ignore the Rector's cruel discourtesy. It will 
be the best censure of his unfriendly action to 
take no notice of it," said Matilda, promptly. 

I only wish," she added, we could get our 
dear Gertrude here for the evening, but that, 
of course, is out of the question, as we must 
start with a gentlemen's dinner party." 

Then there had been a somewhat lengthy 
but very amicable discussion as to which guests 
to invite. Miss Maria Edgcombe giving her 
opinion in mild, hushed tones, but as one whose 
vote counted in any decision which might be 
involved. 

Finally all was settled, the date chosen, and 
the housekeeper duly informed what was about 
to take place. On the Sunday before the day 
fixed for the dinner party, Mrs. Butler- Edgcombe 
had been very quick to notice a very dis- 
tinguished-looking stranger in the Rectory pew. 
It only needed Gertrude's blushing face to 
associate him with herself, and later, when 



THE NEW SQUIRE "AT HOME " 75 

seeing him full face, the ''blue, blue eyes" 
(described by Birdie in her first account of her 
fiance) settled the doubt as to his identity. 

*' How delightful to get this unexpected peep 
of you, dear," Mrs. Butler- Edgcombe had said 
as, the service over, she lingered in the church- 
yard for Gertrude, who quickly appeared, 
Aubrey Rice walking by her side. 

''Papa telegraphed for me to come," said 
Gertrude, turning rosy red, partly from self- 
consciousness, but largely because of the great 
pleasure of getting speech in this way of Aunt 
Matilda. " Let me introduce you to Aubrey. 
Is it not fortunate for us he had business here 
to-morrow in connection with his office, and he 
wrote to ask if he might spend Sunday with my 
people ? Papa telegraphed off for me at once, 
and we travelled by the same train." 

" I think the good fortune must not stop 
there," said Mr. Butler- Edgcombe, who had 
been introduced to Mr. Rice when that gentle- 
man was presented to his wife. " May we not 
share in the pleasure of this unexpected visit ? 
We are entertaining guests at the Manor to- 
morrow night. Will not Mr. Rice be one of 
them ? The Rector is coming. I only wish we 
were privileged to include ladies, but this time 
it is just a bachelors' dinner party." 

Gertrude blushed, as she said warmly, " I 
should have been delighted to be invited, but I 



76 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



must go back to my young charges in the 
morning. As to Mr. Rice, what say you, 
Aubrey?" 

I shall be pleased to accept Mr. Butler- 
Edgcombes hospitality," said Aubrey, quietly, 
" if I can by any possibility manage it. Per- 
haps," he added, turning to the new Squire 
with a frank smile which lighted up his face 
most wonderfully, *'you will allow me to leave 
it open. I must get up to town early to- 
morrow afternoon, but I might get back again. 
What is your dinner hour ? " 

''7.30 for 8," replied the new Squire 
promptly, well pleased that Mr. Aubrey Rice 
had thought the invitation worthy of some 
special effort. And then the Rector joined 
them, and as they all chatted pleasantly together 
on the way to the Manor House carriage, 
which stood waiting its master and mistress, 
none but those in the secret would have guessed 
how bitter the feeling was in the clergyman's 
heart against the man of whom he thought as a 
society interloper. 

It was on the following day that Dr. May- 
nard mentioned, in the post office, that there 
was to be a dinner party at the Manor House 
that night, and the news created so much 
excitement in the village that it became to them 
afterwards in memory as a red-letter day. 

Mr. Butler- Edgcombe played the part of host 



THE NEW SQUIRE "AT HOME " 



77 



that evening with becoming dignity. The most 
critical could not have complained of the ease 
with which he received his guests. His manner 
was entirely free from what is to-day known as 
*'side" on the one hand or ''nervous humility" 
on the other. He was particularly natural and 
self-possessed, and never wavered for a moment 
in doing the right thing, as measured by the 
hard-and-fast rule of society, at the right time. 

Only once during the evening did anything 
arise of a specially trying nature, and for this 
the Rector was entirely responsible. 

It was during a busy hum of voices eager in 
conversation that the Rector chanced to ask his 
hostess " if she still gave much attention to the 
cultivation of poultry.-^" 

" My husband has become the active partner 
in my poultry business," Mrs. Butler- Edg- 
combe said pleasantly, her cheeks flushing a 
little as she spoke. Indeed," she added, ''he 
always had far more to do with it than I." 

At that moment she turned to give some 
direction to a servant who stood by her right 
shoulder, when the Rector, forgetful of all good 
manners, looked towards his left-hand neigh- 
bour and remarked, " I knew he was a good 
poultry carver, but I did not think he took 
interest in rearing poulets." 

The remark would doubtless have been 
absolutely lost in the general hubbub of talking 



78 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

had it not chanced at that very moment that 
there was a sudden lull in the conversation, 
one of those strange pauses for which no one 
can account but which so often are attended with 
disastrous consequences. 

Every word of the Rector's had been heard 
even at the farthest end of the table, and the 
foolish utterance was even more foolishly greeted 
by a general titter. Only one man present 
dared to show his indignation by an audible 
" Hush ! " called out in the heat of the moment 
as the natural expression of his own feeling, and 
that one was Aubrey Rice. 

Of course it would have been better had the 
host passed over the matter in contemptuous 
silence ; but John Butler- Edgcombe had not 
come into any sudden heritage of courtly man- 
ners, bequeathed by an unbroken ancestry of 
noble lineage, when he married his wife Matilda, 
and this was a crisis when his natural endow- 
ment of courteous feeling did not go far enough 
to help him to rise to the occasion. 

He bit his lip, looking for the moment un- 
questionably angry ; then he spoke out in the 
awkward silence which Aubrey's Hush ! " had 
enforced. He said, with a little laugh, Doubt- 
less Mr. Hastings will also remember that I 
have in the past been considered something 
of an expert in decanting wine ? I see my 
butler has made some mistake in bottling this 



THE NEW SQUIRE ''AT HOME " 



79 



port. If you will kindly excuse me a moment, 
I will get another bottle up from my wine cellar 
and decant it myself." 

There was certainly more dignity than anger 
in the tone of the new Squire as he said this, 
but being himself in the position of host, it might 
have been wiser to have left the speech un- 
spoken. For the most part the guests looked 
uncomfortable. Aubrey Rice, chancing to sit 
near the master of the house, seeing his inten- ~ 
tion of leaving the room, rose from his seat and 
opened the door for him. And then the con- 
versation flowed apace, each one intent to bury 
the unpleasant moment beneath the flowery 
nothings of more courteous speech. 

When the evening at length came to an 
end — all had gone well with that one exception — 
the new Squire sat in his wife's boudoir and 
chatted Over some interesting details. He had 
heard of a mare belonging to a neighbouring 
squire which was to be sold privately. If his 
informant had spoken correctly as to her size, 
she was just what they were looking out for to 
run in the shafts with Nancy. He would lose 
no time in going over the next morning. 

Then Dr. Maynard had asked him to help 
the free library scheme in connection with 
South Dinsley : what would Matilda say if he 
sent a cheque to the promoters for ^500 ? 
Anything in the way of education was good. 



So THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

And so on. At last, when it was time to retire 
for the night, Mr. Butler - Edgcombe said 
somewhat humbly, I am sorry I took any 
notice of the Rector's ill-mannered speech, 
Matilda ; you must please forgive me. One 
thing I shall never forget in connection with 
it, and that was young Rice's attitude ! " And 
Matilda, amid many blushes and with a very 
tearful smile, assured John that he had nothing 
to regret about anything he had said or done 
at this their first dinner-party. As to the 
Rector, she thought he had behaved abominably, 
and she almost washed that this might be their 
last opportunity of laying themselves open to 
the ill-mannered laughter of their guests. 

Still," added Matilda, I am jealous for 
you, John. I do not like it to be thought that 
you cannot meet Society's claims in the way of 
showing hospitality. But for this we would let 
to-night be our first and last attempt. You are 
more than capable of making a good host. 
I v/as more than proud of you to-night ! " 

I thank you, my dear Matilda, for your 
praise. It is very sweet to me," said the new 
Squire, his eyes quite shining with feeling. 
''If you are satisfied, I ought not to be annoyed 
at the display of any ill-natured manners on the 
part of our visitors. Still, perhaps it would 
scarcely be well for any one concerned to 
tolerate more than a certain amount of this 



THE NEW SQUIRE **AT HOME " 8 1 

sort of thing. If I allow twenty per cent, as 
due to the somewhat singular circumstances 
attached to the fact of my being master here, 
and another ten to account for the low tone of 
our supposed high-class gentry, I think I shall 
have gone as far as I can ; more than this 
would pauperise my own self - respect and 
endanger theirs." 

Yes, I agree with you," said Matilda; **but, 
after all, the Rector was most to blame to-night. 
I must confess he has all along pained me by 
his attitude concerning our marriage. I always 
think our clergy should be above all the absurd 
distinctions of Society's making. If their mis- 
sion is to help us to think about another world, 
what right have they, by their own actions, to 
bind our thoughts down to this ? I never have 
cared very much for Mr. Hastings, but, as 
'Gertrude's father, one liked to be friendly with 
him. Do you know, I am not so sorry now 
that Gertrude has gone away from the narrow- 
ing influences of her home-life, and I am more 
glad than I can say that Aubrey Rice seems a 
sensible young man ! " 

What a long speech for Matilda Butler- 
Edgcombe to make. A year ago how im- 
possible it would have been for her to express 
herself thus freely. Was it possible that affec- 
tion of a kind for her good-hearted husband 
Ihad brought to her nature a genial air, which 



82 



THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



helped her to set aside the habitual ^'reserve 
of her former life and talk openly upon subjects 
which moved her ? 

It was not difficult to discover that ; the 
marriage which the Rector spoke of as a 
gross blunder," which, admittedly, was so 
singular in some respects, so quaint in others, 
was not likely to sink to the level of the 
commonplace. 

The new Squire had grave thoughts about 
the responsibilities of wealth. The hand that 
did not gather is lax in scattering riches " is a 
well-known proverb. But Mr. Butler- Edgcombe 
was no spendthrift. He believed in working 
upon some plan, that was all. He had no 
difficulty in getting his wife and Miss Maria 
Edgcombe to see eye to eye with him in the 
matter. They had practically placed their 
ample fortunes in his hand. They asked him 
to do what was best to be done with the wealth 
which, more often than not in the past, with 
their simple tastes and habits, had been almost 
a burden to them. 

Here was an opportunity for speculation — an 
opening few men could face and not be tempted 
to launch out into the indulgence of some 
hobby. But honest John Butler- Edgcombe 
was moved by none of these things. He had 
only one desire, and that was to do more with 
the money at his disposal than had already 



THE NEW SQUIRE **AT HOME " 



85 



been done with it. It was not long before the 
new master at the Manor House had earned for 
himself the benediction which is the portion of 
the man who considers the poor — such con- 
sideration " involving careful enquiry, planning 
out what is best for those who need the uplift- 
ing hand of the one capable of giving such 
assistance. This is the charity distribution 
which has power to develop self-help and main- 
tain self-respect. 

John had his own views in reference to the 
vexed question of servants. He believed, from 
his long contact with this most difficult class^ 
that the problem how to satisfy them would 
quickly be solved if, starting with a stated salary 
for the special post held, each individual had 
power to supplement earnings by some legiti- 
mate effort. Thus the laundry-maid, in receipt 
of a stated wage, would be paid in addition a 
commission upon the number of garments she 
was able to turn out satisfactorily, stimulating 
her arm to deal with many rather than with few, 
and absolutely removing the power to grumble 
because of overwork. Each position in a house- 
hold would command its own special treatment 
on similar lines. The cook would, at the end 
of each week or month, receive so much per 
head for all who had been specially prepared 
for at a meal beyond the immediate family. 
The housemaid would gather her gains on the 



84 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

same principle, and the various departments of 
service would each hold some special oppor- 
tunity of adding to the usual wage peculiar to 
the position. 

It will be seen at a glance that labour under 
these circumstances and conditions would in- 
evitably mean profit to the worker so often 
accustomed to grumble and complain when 
extra work fell to his or her share. At the 
same time it would introduce into the monotony 
of the life of service certain speculative elements 
which would create a very healthy and legiti- 
mate excitement. 

How interested our dear father would have 
been, John," Matilda would say when her 
husband explained some pet theory which he 
bid her aid him to reduce to practice ; " but he 
would have been so timid about altering long- 
existing plans." 

" They have altered themselves," observed 
John, drily. " Just as the sea at Dunwich, where 
we stayed last summer on the Suffolk coast, was 
once over five miles away from the church, and 
now is only some few hundred yards, so time 
brings about changes in ways no human brain 
ever contemplates or plans. Our mistake is not 
to recognise these changes. In the old days 
when service and slavery were one and the 
same, there was no room for expectation, no 
need for stimulus. But slavery ceased and paid 



THE NEW SQUIRE *'AT HOME " 85 

service came in ; and the sooner we recognise 
that there is an injustice in expecting eighteen- 
pennyworth of service for a shilling's pay the 
better. Service to-day means pay. Pay must 
be varied according to the worth (to him who is 
paymaster) of the worker, so planning set wages 
that a margin is left for what I will call my 
speculative theory. This is what we are coming 
to if we would keep a hold upon our employes 
and make domestic service worth going in for." 

*'John," said Matilda one day after her 
husband had been stating the above views, 
you owe it to Society at large to tell the world 
what you are . teaching me so emphatically to 
believe in. Why don't you write to the 
Times ? " 

" Because, my dear Matilda " said John, with 
a grim smile,' they would rule an ex-butler's 
statements out of order." 

" Not when he writes as the present squire 
of Edgcombe Manor, "^ said Matilda, with 
spirit. 

By which it will be seen that Matilda Butler- 
Edgcombe was actually growing quite proud 
of her husband. 



CHAPTER VIII 



SUNSET ILLUMININGS 

Two years had passed since Miss Matilda 
Edgcombe had escaped the grave emergency 
which threatened her and her sister, by 
marrying her late father's butler. To-day she 
sat by that sister's deathbed. 

She was looking younger by some years than 
upon the day of her marriage, but Miss Maria 
had aged considerably. She had been ill for 
over eight months, and suffering and the 
enforced confinement in one room had left 
their marks upon her. Her eyes were dulled 
and had receded in their sockets, her cheeks 
were faded, and the general appearance of her 
drooping frame was of a body prematurely old. 

You will be better when the spring time 
comes, Maria," said her sister Matilda in what 
were intended to be cheerful tones. You 
must not talk of leaving us yet. We could not 
possibly spare you." A lump came into the 
speaker's throat as she said this, and her 
attempts at cheerfulness were certainly many 
-degrees below the standard of success. 

I do not think I want to get better, please," 

86 



SUNSET ILLUMININGS 



87 



said Maria, plaintively. I am so weary — so 
weary ; and, besides, I take up so much of your 
time nursing me ; and then I am so sorry for 
John, and he is always so kind." 

The invalid's cough came on badly at this 
time, and effectually prevented her sister reply- 
ing to her remark at the moment. When at 
length it quietened down a little, Maria con- 
tinued, and her tones were dreamy and low- 
pitched. I am glad you married John, Matilda. 
I could never have rested in my grave if, when 
I went there, you had been left all alone in this 
large old-fashioned house." 

Then, after a pause, she continued in a way 
which would pretty well have explained to a 
casual observer the boundary line of her 
theology — I am wondering a little how I shall 
explain it all to 'dear father and mother w^hen I 
see them in that other world." 

**Ah, Maria, you need not trouble," said 
Matilda, quite unmoved, excepting for a little 
flush which dyed her cheek at the moment. 

They will have heavenly eyes to look at earthly 
things with there. They will think more of 
honesty and uprightness of character than of 
worldly position, and they will honour John as 
we do for his devoted and unfailing care of us. 
I am sure mother will be the very first to 
admire John with very genuine admiration ! " 

Maria looked relieved. 



88 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



And you think father will not — will not 
say we have wronged our great ancestry in 
letting him be master here ? " she continued, 
fixing her gaze on the ceiling, and speaking as 
one is apt to speak when conversing with 
thoughts long familiar to the mind rather than 
with an individual only that moment on the 
scene. It has seemed so difficult sometimes 
to make it all fit in, Matilda. I know we did 
what we thought best at the time — " 

The flush upon Matilda's cheek grew more 
brilliant, but her tones were just as calm as 
when she had last spoken as she replied, 
" Set your mind at rest, Maria. Our father 
and mother were themselves the best proof of 
the genuine nobility of our ancestry. In spite 
of wealth and position, were they not simple- 
minded enough to love downright goodness 
wherever they met with it ? Surely there is an 
aristocracy of character which in heaven is 
accepted at its own value. Dear mother and 
father had this ; John has it also ; hence in 
heaven they will all be equal." 

When you talk like that, I see it quite 
clearly," said Miss Maria, withdrawing her eyes 
from the ceiling and fixing them on her sister's 
face. 

"And we have been very happy," said 
Matilda softly, stroking her sister's hand. 
John has always been so kind, so considerate, 



SUNSET ILLUMININGS 



89 



and far more thoughtful than the husbands are 
of whom we read in books. I am sure some of 
our most aristocratic connections might be 
taught by him. With John the responsibilities 
of married life are so serious, while so many of 
our friends think lightly of them, or ignore them 
altogether." 

- ' John is what our dear mother used to call 
*one of Natures gentlemen,'" said Maria, 
smiling and colouring a little. " No," she 
added, musingly, it would be quite impossible 
for him to be seen at a disadvantage in heaven ! 
He is so honourable." 

Matilda's cheek crimsoned. Her sister's 
praise of her husband was very sweet to her. 

"He always thought highly of you, Maria," 
she ventured to. say after a moment's pause, and 
the sick woman replied tremblingly, God bless 
him for his goodness to us both ! " and as she 
spoke a smile of great peacefulness came into 
her face, making her look for the moment, in 
spite of her hardened features and pinched and 
faded cheeks, almost beautiful. After this she 
eased herself on her pillow, losing her breath in 
the effort, finally sinking back into much the 
same position as before. 

Then there fell over the two sisters a dreamy 
silence, such as often comes into a sick room, 
turning minutes into hours, and reducing hours 
into moments. Neither spoke again. At this 

G 



90 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

minute they understood each other perfectly. 
What need to put in words the thoughts which 
floated through their minds ? Again and again 
Maria smiled to herself, as if her thoughts were 
pleasant, and Matilda smiled for company ; 
and the gentle ticking of the clock seemed as 
the sympathy of a friend. By and bye Maria 
slept, but Matilda still sat on. 

And thus her husband found her later, when, 
softly entering the room, he approached with 
almost reverent step, bearing in his hands 
flowers and grapes for the invalid. 

Matilda started out of her reverie. At this 
moment the rays of the winter's setting sun 
came softly through the casement window, 
lighting up the corner of the room in which 
the invalid's bed was placed, bathing her pillow 
in the rich rose-tinted glow — caught from the 
coloured glass through which the light had 
found its way — playing upon the sick woman's 
grey-touched hair, her brow with its deep fur- 
rows, her closed eyelids, her faded cheeks, and 
the throat, no longer fair, which sickness had 
wasted. And here, beneath the chin, just 
catching the edge of the frills which encircled 
the neck, the light made itself a border-line, 
framing, as it were, the form it thus enriched 
with colour. 

Mr. Butler- Edgcombe stood as one suddenly 
arrested. How like a picture ! " he uttered 



SUNSET ILLUMININGS 



91 



softly, leaning over his wife's chair, as he gazed 
at his sister-in-law. 

r>--This was but for a moment ; the next and he 
had stepped aside, approaching the pillow in a 
way which cast a shadow over the spotless linen 
and darkened the splendour which had so trans- 
fixed him. Matilda took the flowers and fruit 
from his hands as he bent over the invalid. 
Lower and lower he bowed his head, listening 
for the regular breathing of the sleeper, but he 
listened in vain. It was only the matter of a 
few seconds before he gently led his wife from 
the room. His authoritative Come away, 
dear," could not be resisted, even had Matilda 
contemplated doing so. His extreme tender- 
ness as he whispered, My poor Matilda, but 
this is sudden grief for you to bear," explained 
more than anything else his action. They were 
in the presence of death ... so gently 
and without attracting special attention had rest 
come to the weary. 

The news of the trouble at the Manor House, 
which, although for some time foreshadowed, 
had actually come most unexpectedly, softened 
the Rector's heart somewhat towards the lady 
who had so grievously transgressed in his sight 
the laws of Society by her undignified marriage. 
He knew how deeply attached the sisters were, 
and how tenaciously the weaker mind had 
twined itself round the stronger one. The 



92 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

untwining would be felt to the one remaining- 
To her, her sister s death was a calamity. 

Of course Matilda will feel more than ever 
now the involved position she created by her 
disastrous marriage. Could anything be more 
intolerable than being left as she is to-day — a 
woman of culture tied for life to a man who had 
been the family servant, with not a creature to 
speak to in her own position, completely cut off 
from her aristocratic relations ? No wonder her 
cousin, Lord Walters, was so bitter in his 
remarks to me at the Conservative Club that 
day. ' Matilda has done for herself for ever with 
her parents' relatives. There is not one of us 
would ever consent to cross the threshold of 
Edgcombe Manor House again while ^Aa^ man 
rem.ains the master ! ' And Lord Walters is 
right. It is only thus that the English aris- 
tocracy can maintain its magnificent prestige ! 

The Rector continued to wage wrathful 
utterances so long as he was left undisturbed. 
He had an indulgent listener in his wife, but 
when he had accused Matilda Edgcombe, in 
his unrestrained anger, of actually planning to 
bring about the undesirable marriage by putting 
it into the butler's head that he ought to 
marry " ; was it not wise for a man of his 
years to settle down ? " etc., Mrs. Hastings was 
roused. 

''Stop, Archibald!" she cried, rising from 



SUNSET ILLUMININGS 



93 



her seat and stamping her foot, I think you 
have said quite enough. You have got to the 
end of facts, and before you attempt fiction, it 
would be better to consuh poor Matilda, and 
hear what she has to say in the matter ! " 

I am surprised at you, my dear," exclaimed 
the wrathful Rector. To hear you speak one 
would think you agreed to the union." And 
upon this he proceeded to lecture his wife in a 
way which hopelessly involved Matilda Edg- 
combe, the British aristocracy, and plebeian 
butlers. The exercise, however, of his vocal 
powers in giving this harangue went far to 
exhaust the personal animus which inspired the 
address, and at the close the Rector took a 
much more charitable view of the matter. 
Matilda Edgcombe had done a very foolish 
thing, but that was no reason why, at such a 
moment as the present, she should be deserted. 

I must go and see her," he said, pausing in 
the walk he had been taking from end to end of 
a large old-fashioned hearth-rug, '*and, 'pon my 
word, but if she expresses half a wish to have 
Gertrude with her for a few days, I think we 
should do well to waive objection. A time of 
death is a time of setting aside differences." 

I wonder whether Lord Walters will think 
that and come to the funeral ? " said Mrs. 
Hastings sleepily, with a half-suppressed yawn. 
(She had sat up much beyond her usual hour 



94 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



to meet the Rector on his return home from 
London with the news from the Manor House> 
and body and brain were tired.) 

Not he ! " was the quick reply. Blue 
blood is thick, and moves slowly through the 
veins. I know I pride myself upon my own, 
but my professional work brings other influences 
to bear. I mean too what I say about Gertrude. 
A week at the Manor House could not hurt the 
girl, and Matilda might be glad of her. At any 
rate I will suggest it when I call in the 
morning." 

But the Rector had no opportunity given him 
of making any proposals at Edgcombe Manor 
House. The message brought down when he 
sent his card up was to the effect that Mrs. 
Butler- Edgcombe was too unwell to be seen, 
and the Squire was engaged with the family 
lawyer." 



CHAPTER IX 



GERTRUDE HASTINGS* PROMISE TO HER PUPIL 

" Miss Hastings, I wish you were a little girl 
like me. Don't you ? " The question was put 
in the piping treble of a child's voice, and the 
wistful eyes which looked up into Gertrude's 
face were full of that strange earnestness so 
often associated with delicate children whose 
minds have grown apace, while their bodies 
have been slow to develop. 

I think I might, Daisy, sometimes, you 
know, when I , felt very tired and wanted to go 
to sleep in the middle of the day, as you are 
going just now when I have tucked you up in 
your little bed. Are you ready, darling ? " 

Gertrude Hastings stroked the fair hair of her 
young charge, and smiled upon her upturned 
face as if at least the two were excellent friends. 

''No, don't, please, send me away from you 
yet. Miss Hastings," said Daisy, beseechingly. 
*' I want to tell you something — something quite 
private — now Blanche is practising her music 
in the drawing-room. It is quite a secret ! " 

Well, what is it, little woman ? " inquired 
Gertrude, sitting down and taking Daisy on her 

95 



96 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

knee. " I will give you five whole minutes — 
three hundred seconds — so hasten on." 

Thus encouraged, Daisy spoke — " I heard 
mamma say yesterday, if you were not so big 
and such a real lady, she wanted to keep you 
with us for ever and ever! But because, you 
see, people forget to pay papa for sitting in his 
pews, and then some go away and never sit in 
them at all, and then the money mamma wants 
to keep house with isn't there to be spent, so 
you see papa and mamma are going to ask you 
if you would not like to take care of some other 
little girls whose papas are very rich, and I 
thought if only you happened to be a little girl 
just as small as me you could have half of my 
wee bed, and mamma need never mind about 
things for — for — Oh, Miss Hastings, if you 
go away my heart will break ; I love you so 
much I cannot, cannot let you go ! " and Daisy, 
who had by this time worked herself up into a 
frenzy of despair, broke out into a passionate 
fit of weeping. 

So this was the meaning of little Daisys 
unusual depression during lesson-time that 
morning. This accounted for the wistful 
glances which had been shot across the break- 
fast-table by this wee little woman usually so 
sunny-hearted and bright. 

I am afraid papa and mamma would grieve 
if they thought you had been listening to what 



Gertrude's promise to her pupil 97 

must have been quite a private conversation," 
said Gertrude, gravely, ''and I am sure they 
would not want you to repeat it to me, Daisy ; 
so now, dear, we will talk no more about it, 
but you must go for your noonday sleep, and 
try to forget what you overheard." 

Daisy by this time was sobbing softly — the 
passion of tears had spent itself — a sudden out- 
break and soon over, so natural to childhood. 
She looked wistfully at her governess — ''Was 
I very naughty to listen? I was playing in 
papa s study, and could not help hearing, for all 
my dollies had gone to sleep, and there was a 
great hush in my corner ! " 

"Well, well," said Gertrude,, putting the 
little one off her lap and rising as if anxious to 
end the conversation, " I do not think any one 
would reprove you, if that was the case, for 
having heard papa and mamma talking, but my 
little Daisy will not say anything more about 
it, and it will soon be forgotten ! " 

"And you will not go and leave us because 
the people forget to pay for sitting in papa's 
pews in church ? " said Daisy, the tears again 
starting to her eyes. 

"No, little darling," replied Gertrude, giving 
the child an impulsive hug. " Do not worry ! 
Mamma will not, I hope, send me away, and I 
could not go until you and Blanche were a little 
more grown up than you are now." 



98 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

" Oh, I wish I could stay little for always / 
exclaimed Daisy, skipping about in her glee, 
her baby mind quite relieved. She was ready 
to be sent off to bed now, and soon was sleeping 
the peaceful, happy sleep of childhood. 

Meanwhile Gertrude Hastings sat in the 
school-room buried in deep thought. Was this, 
then, the meaning of Mrs. Brownlows many 
sighs when discussing very necessary expendi- 
ture in connection with home life ? Were they 
really poor — forced to bear the burden of 
limited means, in addition to the heavy care of 
working a poor parish where the necessary 
church funds were so hard to raise ? 

Little Daisy s revelation prepared Gertrude 
for the interview with Mrs. Brownlow which 
came later in the day, when her young charges 
had gone to bed. 

She was sitting with the Vicar s wife in the 
morning-room, which, when alone, they in- 
variably used for meals, and for writing or 
working in during intervening hours. It was 
still early in the evening. At eight they would 
be going to the church (which stood alongside of 
the Vicarage), for the usual week-night service. 

" I must apologise to you, Miss Hastings," 
Mrs. Brownlow said, putting down her work 
while speaking, for the delay in paying your 
salary, but Mr. Brownlow has found it difficult 
to spare me money this month. He is, alas,. 



Gertrude's promise to her pupil 99 

responsible for so much in the parish, if funds 
do not come in in an ordinary way, and just 
now things are terribly behind ! " 

Please do not think about it for a moment," 
exclaimed Gertrude, blushing a little consciously 
as she remembered Daisy's conversation of that 
morning. I am in no hurry ; indeed, I often 
wish I had no salary to receive. It is such a 
real pleasure to be here, and I am so full of 
sympathy with you in your busy, struggling 
life. I hope it is not presumptuous to say so. 
I never knew before what an anxiety a city 
parish must be ! " 

Ah, you have seen something of us in the 
eighteen months you have been with us, my 
dear," said Mrs Brownlow, with a sigh. " I 
feel I may treat you as a friend, and speak 
quite openly." 

Gertrude looked up with a frank smile. She 
had a very warm admiration for little Mrs. 
Brownlow, but in some way they had never 
become very intimate. Possibly this was the 
reason why they got on so well together ; for 
surely too much demonstration on the one 
hand, creating, as it must do, expectation on the 
other, is apt to increase the temperature of 
sociability to hothouse heat, rendering minds 
abnormally sensitive, and so preparing the way 
for trouble which, under healthier conditions, 
could never originate. 



lOO THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



*'You see, my dear Miss Hastings," con- 
tinued Mrs. Brownlow, ''when we came to this 
parish we followed a vicar who, having private 
means of his own, was quite independent. As 
a matter of fact, he gave every penny of his 
stipend back to the parish, usually anony- 
mously, but his subscriptions helped to support 
much of the special work, which is so important 
in these poor districts. Having no money of 
our own, we cannot afford to devote our stipend 
to parish interests, but unless we constantly 
find money for parochial purposes, a great many 
things would come to a dead stop, and this is 
the pity of it all. While we are paying twenty- 
five pounds a year out of our little income to 
help towards the curate's salary — and oh ! what 
should we do without his help, we should have 
been in our graves long ago — and another 
twenty to church expenses, because our poor 
collections will not reach the point needed, and, 
while to keep things going, we are obliged to 
spare a pound here and a few shillings there, we 
are actually running into debt ourselves. Yes; 
think of it, we, who should be public examples 
in our parish, of whom no one should have it in 
his power to tax us with debt, we are incurring 
it daily — not for luxuries, God knows — but for 
food and clothes of the simplest and most 
necessary kind. Oh, Miss Hastings, I could 
weep over my own woes when I think of 



Gertrude's promise to her pupil ioi 

our fetters through no fault of our own ! Were 
it not for the patience and forbearance of our 
tradespeople how could we live ? I often smile 
through my tears in my corner of our pew on 
Sunday when I see our grocer come into church. 
* Ah ! ' I say to myself, ' it is to you we, at the 
Vicarage, owe our breakfast this morning, and 
tea and breakfast every morning for the last six 
months! May Heaven reward you! I must 
confess I am less comfortable in my thoughts 
about some to whom I owe money, because 
they have not hesitated to ask for it ; poor 
things, I expect they wanted it or they would 
not have troubled us ; but, anyway, we are in 
debt, and I hate, hate, hate it ! And it can't 
be right ! 

It fetters us, this being in debt, I say, and 
more than that, it burdens our spirit and unfits 
us for the very work we are here to do. I 
maintain, to do real spiritual work a clergyman 
needs to be quite free from any financial strain. 
How could this be in a parish like ours ? Well, 
it sounds, I fear, a little hard to say it, but poor 
as our people are, I believe solemnly that if they 
had been trained to first admit and then live up 
to their responsibilities, the money would be 
forthcoming for parish work, and the endow- 
ment would — if not broken into — amply meet 
our personal wants. Of course, I should be 
looked upon as a most absurd financier if I 



I02 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

suggested that the claim the parish church has 
upon the people should mean a sort of tribute 
paid weekly to the treasurer of the common 
fund by each family in the district — yes, even 
the very poorest might give a penny a head, 
saved from luxuries — beer, tobacco, or sweets 
- — but I am sure this would go a long way to 
solve the problem * how to reach the masses ' ; 
for where the poor's pennies go, there will 
they follow to see what becomes of them." 

Mrs. Brownlow had spoken with great excite- 
ment. Her fair face, usually so peaceful in its 
setting, had flushed, and her eyes grown 
brilliantly large as she proceeded. 

I am so sorry for you and the Vicar," stam- 
mered Gertrude. It is good of you to explain 
things so plainly." 

My dear Miss Hastings, it is due to you," 
said Mrs. Brownlow, quickly. You are a 
member of our family to-day, and are entitled 
to know, in measure at least, some of our 
piteous struggles. But I am especially anxious 
to tell you to-day because — because I am sorely 
afraid we must deny ourselves the luxury of a 
governess for our little girls and send them to 
school. I blush to say it, but I can no longer 
find the fifteen pounds which we pay you, all 
this time wishing we could afford three times 
that sum. Even then it would be but poor 
return for all the comfort you have been to us.'' 



Gertrude's promise to her pupil 103 

Please, dear Mrs. Brownlow, do not let my 
money ^trouble you," said Gertrude, warmly. 
I will gladly take half — less than half — say 

a year, and stay and help you. I have 
learnt so many things since I came to you, and 
making my own dresses as I do now, thanks to 
you, is very economical ! Besides, my mother 
would never let me want for clothes." Then, 
seeing Mrs. Brownlow's lip tremble as she was 
trying to steady her voice to answer, Gertrude 
added, Please let me look upon the matter as 
settled. I shall indeed feel it a privilege to 
help, however little, in easing your burden of 
poverty ; and I know your little girls are not 
strong enough to attend an ordinary school ! " 

You are too good," said Mrs. Brownlow, at 
length finding her voice, her tears flowing as 
she spoke, *'but I am afraid we must not 
selfishly accept' your generous offer. Besides, 
Mr. Rice might object. You forget you have 
let me into your secret of trying to save a little 
for his sake." 

Gertrude crimsoned. For the moment Aubrey 
Rice had been entirely out of her thoughts. 
She was, however, quick to answer Mrs. 
Brownlow — I am quite sure Mr. Rice will 
think as I do, and be very proud to know I am 
really able to be of any special service to you. 
When he comes next Sunday, as he hopes to do, 
thanks to your kind invitation, you shall hear 



I04 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

from his own lips how pleased he is with my 
suggestion. I know he has always felt grateful 
to you and the Vicar for your kind con- 
sideration." 

This conversation had taken place the very 
day of Miss Maria Edgcombe's death. The 
following morning Gertrude received a few 
lines from the Squire, speaking of his wife's sad 
loss and of her overwhelming grief 

Within an hour Gertrude Hastings was on 
her way to Edgcombe Manor, to be what help 
and comfort she could to Aunt Matilda. The 
implicit obedience enforced by her father at the 
time of Miss Edgcombe's marriage made no 
appeal to her to-day. She was of age, and the 
fetters which had bound the life of her girlhood 
had been broken when she left home. She 
had always felt her father's action on that 
occasion to have been unjust. To-day she 
resented it as more than an injustice. She had 
been cruelly forced into a position of ingratitude, 
and those to whom she owed so much in the 
past had been distinctly wronged by her 
conduct. It was too late to seek Aunt Maria's 
forgiveness, but could she not find opportunity 
in the future to restore to Aunt Matilda fourfold 
the love and sympathy and companionship 
of which her conscience told her she had 
robbed her ? 



CHAPTER X 



AN ANGRY RECTOR 

" Preposterous ! " exclaimed the Rev. Archi- 
bald Hastings (a few days after the events 
narrated in the last chapter) as he brought his 
hand down upon the table with a force which 
caused his wife to exclaim, My dear / " but 
did not perceptibly move even a hair of the 
very curly head of the young man to whom the 
remark was addressed. 

I tell you," reiterated the Rector, getting 
almost black in the face with anger of a kind so 
painful to witness, I tell you the thing is pre- 
posterous ! You are mad, Aubrey Rice ; clean 
gone off your head, or how could you calmly 
contemplate foregoing an honourable position 
in life for one that can only disgrace your 
family ? What, I want to know, was your 
education for if not to fit you for a life where 
mind held its own over matter, a life where 
every gentleman must find his place in the brain 
power of the age ? 

''I do not say you have actually reached a 
very definite or exalted position in your present 
calling, but, at all events, you were in a fair 



I06 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

way to do so, and now in cold blood you come 
to me — and, mark you, when everything is 
settled too — and tell me you are going to throw 
up your old work and become a draper's assist- 
ant ! Bah, Rice ! I should have thought a man 
of your calibre would have had more self- 
respect than to have done anything so absolutely 
contemptible ! I have no patience with you ! " 

Excuse me, Mr. Hastings," said Aubrey 
Rice, with great difficulty keeping his temper, 
but having been brought up to regard all 
legitimate trade as honourable, I fail to see to 
what particular point in my action your sug- 
gestion applies. You forget my Quaker ancestry 
will have given my mind quite another standard 
whereby to measure the legitimate calling of an 
educated and cultured man, presumably a 
gentleman, from the one which you are at the 
present moment upholding ! " 

I don't understand what you are driving 
at," said the Rector, knocking the ashes out 
of his meerschaum pipe, and refilling it with an 
activity which had a good deal of nervous 
irritability in it. 

Simply this," said Aubrey Rice, with 
heightened colour, but otherwise unmoved ; I 
have been taught to believe that every rig'A^ 
calling has room for a good man, and that no 
man is at his best unless well educated and 
cultured. Further, that no trade can lower the 



AN ANGRY RECTOR 



man who enters it with the full determination to 
make it a means of doing his duty to God and 
man. Bear with me a moment, and let me 
prove my point. Are not well-educated (and 
for the matter of that, well-born) men with 
plenty of natural refinement, sensitive, truth- 
loving, and withal with high ideals, better able 
to keep up the standard of righteous dealing, 
man to man, in the world of commerce than the 
less-educated, less-cultured, less-sensitive indi- 
vidual who enters trade with but one object, 
and that only to make money? Am I to be 
despised because I enter a position where some 
day, if not to-day, I can lay down laws which 
will protect my business from what is known as 
* shoddyism ' on the one hand and clap-trap 
bargains on the other ? Am I to be upbraided 
as a fool because I realise (presumably led to do 
so because of my Quaker bringing-up) that, 
seeing it is jiecessary to have drapers' shops to 
meet the civilised requirements of the everyday 
life of a nation like ours, it is best to have a 
man of education and refined feeling at the head 
who will see his employes have all the considera- 
tion due to them in reference to health and 
happiness ? Surely it ennobles the business, be 
it what it may, if the employer allows his people 
a definite margin in the use of their time for 
self-culture, and pays a wage which does more 
than provide for the bare necessities of life ? " 



I08 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

" Your argument is grotesquely uncon- 
vincing," snorted the Rector, changing his 
position in his arm-chair by uncrossing and 
recrossing his legs. 

Aubrey was roused. His voice was no 
longer calm and unruffled, but angry, indig- 
nant, as if patience could go no further. It 
was the turning of the worm. He rose to his 
feet as he said, with spirit, " I am not telling 
you that I am about to enter a trade which 
makes its profits out of the losses of its sup- 
porters ! Perhaps had I come to you with the 
avowal that I was about to be taken into part- 
nership in some brewery, you would have spared 
me your opposition ? " 

" Possibly," replied the Rector, with a deri- 
sive laugh, "but even you will admit. Rice, 
there is a distinct difference between the trade 
and a trade." 

Certainly," said Aubrey ; I admit it abso- 
lutely by holding that the well-born man of 
culture will find but little scope for ennobling 
and purifying the trade, whereas in what you 
are pleased to term a trade, his opportunities 
will be exhaustless." 

''Well, well," said the Rector, rising and 
patting the air as if fanning himself in an 
oppressive atmosphere, ''you and I would 
never agree upon these matters if we discussed 
them until the poet s silvery moon became blue, 



AN ANGRY RECTOR 



109 



SO we had better end this painful interview. I 
can only repeat what I have already said, I 
think you a fool to give up good prospects for 
bad, and, if I have any say in the matter of 
Gertrude's engagement, it will cease from now. 
No daughter of mine will get my consent for 
her marriage with a tradesman ; and if she goes 
contrary to my wishes, she must do so with her 
eyes open ; this home will close its doors to her 
for ever — " 

Hush, my dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Hastings, 
suddenly roused to take part in the conversa- 
tion. Gertrude has a mind of her own, and 
you must leave her to judge ; if she sees things 
as Aubrey does — " 

But the Rector never allowed even his wife 
to be insubordinate. He was master of his 
own home, and he enforced obedience with 
an iron will. If any one differed from him they 
must learn to do so in silence. Mrs. Hastings 
had learned her lesson very well in her (nearly) 
thirty years of married life ; and it was on 
the very rarest occasions — this being one — 
that she ventured a remark which at all ran 
counter to her husband's opinions. While she 
was now attempting to put in a word for 
Gertrude, the Rector interrupted her by 
exclaiming, Don't interfere, my dear ; I know 
what I am saying ; and the sooner Aubrey 
Rice understands it the better ! " 



no THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



I must leave Gertrude to speak for herself/ 
said Aubrey. " I know what she thinks, minus 
her father's anger and threats ; when these have 
been made known to her, she might wish to 
reconsider her position, but in that case she 
will not be the Gertrude Hastings I have 
always admired for her sense of justice and her 
noble independence of character. Doubtless 
she may have anticipated your opposition, as 
she was so anxious to come with me to-day, but 
I thought to spare her a painful interview. If 
you will allow me, I will withdraw now, and 
rejoin her at the Manor House, where she 
came so soon as she had heard of Mrs. Butler- 
Edgcombe's great loss." 

Gertrude at the Manor House, and we 
knew nothing about it ! " exclaimed the Rector, 
angrily. How dare she go there without my 
permission ! " For the moment he quite forgot 
he had himself suggested (when talking over 
the Manor House troubles with his wife on 
hearing of Maria Edgcombe's death) that if 
Gertrude's presence were desired for a few days 
it would be wise to sanction her going. But 
men of the Rector's calibre seldom allow any one 
else the privilege of arriving at a conclusion 
with which they perfectly agree so long as the 
initiation emanates from themselves. Men of 
this type find right to be right because they say 
it is so, but if some one else tries to prove the 



AN ANGRY RECTOR 



1 1 1 



fact, then right becomes wrong, and compli- 
cations ensue. 

Half an hour later, as Aubrey, having re- 
counted (with a few modifications to spare 
Gertrude s feelings) all that had taken place in 
the interview at the Rectory, asked for the 
answer which was to make or mar his life 
happiness, he heard with a thrill of joy words 
which in days to come would be the solace of 
many a bitter hour — darkened by no ordinary 
cloud of sorrow : For better, for worse, I am 
yours, Aubrey ! " 

" Aunt Matilda " had been more than over- 
joyed the day after her sisters death when 
her husband came into the darkened room in 
which she sat with her new grief, feeling life to 
be very desolate, and said, My dear, a young 
friend has come to see you. She will be our 
guest for a while. I know you have a warm 
welcome for Miss Gertrude Hastings." 

''Birdie hereV exclaimed Mrs. Butler-Edg- 
combe with animation. Oh, how good of her 
to come ! " 

'* Do you think I could stay away any longer. 
Aunt Matilda ? " said the one spoken of as she 
threw herself into the arms of the weeping 
woman. And the devoted husband said after- 
wards it was a sight worth living to see — the 
meeting between the bereaved sister and the 
young girl so associated in years that were 
passed and gone with the dear one mourned. 



112 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Your people, what will they say ? " 
whispered Matilda, after a few moments had 
elapsed. 

I do not think we need trouble about that 
question," said Gertrude, lightly. "Once they 
felt empowered to make laws for my life, and 
I did my best to obey. But I am no longer a 
child at home ; I have to think and plan for 
myself in other ways, why not in this ? You and 
dear Aunt Maria did so much for me when I 
was a girl, I can never be grateful enough; and, 
please, if you will let me, I am going to stay 
with you over the funeral and as long as you 
want me. I know it is what Aunt Maria would 
like, and Mr. Butler- Edgcombe says he will be 
glad to have me at the Manor House; and you, 
dear Aunt Matilda, you will not hurry me 
away ? " 

*' Birdie, child, how could I be other than 
glad to have you, when I have longed so for 
you ever since you did not come as usual?" said 
Mrs. Butler- Edgcombe, tearfully. And at this 
point her husband withdrew and left the two 
friends together. Later Aubrey Rice found his 
way to the Manor House. He was by no 
means unmindful of the fact that it was the 
house of mourning, but he was glad to openly 
discuss new schemes and plans which had very 
unexpectedly found an entrance into his life, 
and required prompt decision. 



AN ANGRY RECTOR 



It had been the wish of an old Quaker friend> 
when dying, that Aubrey Rice should one day 
take his place in a large drapery establishment 
in the West-end of London. Only a few 
months previously his only son, an Oxford man, 
had lost his life in a snowdrift on the Alps. 
The position he would have occupied in the 
firm of Catchpool Brothers was open for some 
one introduced by his father. Presumably it 
should have been one whose previous associa- 
tion with a drapery business had given the 
necessary qualification and training. But ex- 
ceptions were occasionally arranged, and Mr. 
Horace Gurney, junior partner in the firm of 
Catchpool Brothers, petitioned that Aubrey Rice 
might serve his apprenticeship to a trade which 
would be new to him, by starting as junior 
assistant, the partnership to be effected after 
the expiration of three years. 

Aubrey Rice saw the advantages to be gained 
after the probation, when his position would 
entitle him to rule and reign over no small 
kingdom, whereas financially he would be better 
off to-day than if remaining in his present office. 

Much to gain and nothing to lose, saving and 
excepting Society's smile, about which he was 
really at heart quite unmindful. However, 
until he had heard what Gertrude had to say, 
Aubrey left the matter an open question. Her 
very prompt and definite decision for him to 



114 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

accept the call to be a tradesman removed all 
doubt from his own mind as to the wisdom of 
the step. Mr. Hastings' opposition irritated, 
but otherwise had no weight with him. 

The week following Miss Maria Edgcombe's 
funeral, which he attended with Gertrude, 
Aubrey left his old work and commenced 
his new. 

Meanwhile Gertrude had paid a visit to the 
Rectory, and, in spite of her mother's inter- 
vention and remonstrance with her father, had 
received her final dismissal from her childhood s 
home, unless she consented absolutely to there 
and then discard Aubrey Rice. She was 
allowed three days in which to consider. 



CHAPTER XI 



AUBREY RICE IN NEW SURROUNDINGS 

Aubrey Rice found much to try both his 
courage,, and temper in the new experiences 
which came into his Hfe as a business man." 
He had early to discover that, with the highest 
ideals of such a life and vocation, his world had 
grown smaller by the narrowing influences 
amidst which he found himself placed. In his 
previous work the need for close application to 
his own special division of an insurance office's 
routine labour had meant attention to detail of 
a kind which precluded much intercourse with 
his fellow-clerks. His own immediate work 
was before him, and no one shared his responsi- 
bility in connection with it. The task imposed, 
however hum-drum it might become, was still 
of a mental order. Figures and facts " had 
pretty well summed up the lines upon which his 
mind had to travel day by day. The very pre- 
cision with which he took and vacated his seat 
at the desk, the punctual start and the exact 
ending of his toil, with the natural rebound 
when office hours were over, and the readiness 
to devote his unspent energies of life upon 



4 



Il6 THE ROMANCE OF AN 'EMERGENCY 

interests which lay outside his work — all this 
had meant to Aubrey Rice a well-disciplined 
but by no means limited existence. 

But everything was different when he became 
a draper's assistant. At first his lot was cast 
entirely ''in the establishment itself"; in other 
words, he was on his feet all day, a learner in 
the various departments of the business proper, 
coming in closer contact with human nature in 
twenty-four hours than he had hitherto done in 
a lifetime. The vapid talk, the aimless, object- 
less lives of the ordinary shop youths completely 
astonished him, while the tendency at all hours 
to find excuse to absent themselves for a few 
moments to get a "freshener up," otherwise a 
"nip" — spirits being more to the majority than 
beer — distinctly alarmed him. 

In vain he tried to analyse the cause of the 
apparent deterioration of character of those 
engaged in a business to which he had per- 
sonally brought very high ideals. Was it that 
men could not stand the details which made 
such slight appeal to their mental powers and 
faculties ? Was it that the constant effort to 
remain calm and unconcerned under the fretting 
and irritating influence of some customer hard 
to please made demands upon nervous energy 
which meant not occasional but incessant mind- 
weariness and exhaustion ? 

Aubrey was conscious, in the early days of 



AUBREY RICE IN NEW SURROUNDINGS II 7 

his change, of feeling unduly tired physically 
and depressed mentally; yet, for at least twelve 
hours out of every twenty-four he was his own 
master, and able to brace himself up by bodily 
exercise and happy contact with literature, 
which at all times took the place, with him, of 
congenial society. How easy it would be to 
slip and slide into general deterioration of 
character if the hours of leisure should chance 
to be given to that which had no power to 
uplift and improve ! 

He made a note of these, his first impressions 
— which time only served to deepen — hoping 
the day would come when he would be in a 
position to use very direct influence in this 
special matter. Much was done by the Firm by 
way of providing good literature. Catchpool 
Brothers had always studied the comfort and 
general welfare of their employes, and lectures 
were occasionally given during the winter 
months in the dining-hall of an attractive and 
elevating character ; but it was easy to find 
excuse for non-attendance — quite two-thirds of 
the young men were conspicuous by their 
absence. Even had Her Majesty the Queen 
honoured them by holding a reception in the 
dining-hall it is doubtful whether many would 
have cared to attend it. To get out into the 
open air, absolutely free from the building in 
which they spent their hours of business — to 



Il8 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

look upon Other faces than those by which they 
had been surrounded all day — to breathe air 
which did not convey the thought of "woollens" 
and ''long cloths," or the faint perfume of 
ribbons and laces — this was to live. Short of 
this was to continue the existence which had 
started when the day s work began. 

Aubrey's idea gravitated rather towards 
creating outside interests which, while taking 
these young fellows away from the atmosphere 
of business life, would yet fully occupy their 
leisure. A few enthusiasts amongst their 
number, and it would be quite natural, he 
believed, for an object to be made sufficiently 
alluring to attract even the normally indifferent 
man to action. But whatever was done by way 
of good influence must be attempted upon the 
individual. Wholesale measures had their place, 
but philanthropy needed to be worked on a 
retail basis if the special need of the special 
man were to be met. 

"What's going on?" inquired Aubrey, one 
morning, as he came upon .a knot of young 
fellows talking eagerly in a department which 
offered special facilities for "gossip groups" 
should no customers chance to be there. 

"It's Stanley Pritchard up to his games 
again," said one of the older men — a buyer — 
stepping from behind the counter, where he was 
busy with a junior assistant marking off various 



AUBREY RICE IN NEW SURROUNDINGS II 9 

goods for which he was responsible, and 
approaching Aubrey. It's a thousand pities," 
he added, and his tones were more sympathetic 
than severe ; ''he has been frightfully unsteady 
of late, and yet there never was a young fellow 
of greater promise than Stanley Pritchard six 
years ago when he first came to business." 

To what do you attribute his change ? 
What has he been up to now ? " asked Aubrey. 

I think, to answer your questions as you 
put them, that he never should have come here. 
He is a young man that, as far as I can see, 
gravitates towards the bad. He needs planting 
in absolutely good surroundings, and of more 
limited dimensions than a business such as ours 
here. Under the eye of a good man, braced up 
by two or three definitely strong and right- 
minded fellow-clerks, Pritchard would have 
done well enough — at least, that's my opinion ; 
but here, if there has been one young fellow 
more inclined to go wrong than another, in less 
than a week Pritchard would become his bosom 
friend. It's only a few months ago that we had 
an awful set-out which led to a young man's 
dismissal." 

" And Pritchard was mixed up in the trouble, 
and yet is still here ? " said Aubrey. 

''Yes. You see," continued the speaker, 
lowering his voice, and so turning that he 
stood with his back to the group of young 



I20 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



men engaged in animated conversation, **he 
happens to be a family connection of our senior 
partner, and he is allowed a few indulgences. 
By the way, it was thought he would be put 
forward for the position you occupy, Mr. Rice. 
As an old hand here I happen to know your 
prospects in coming here. Stanley feels he 
owes you a grudge in some way ; he aimed to 
be where you are, and worked steadily for 
a while, and made every one believe in his 
complete reformation ; but there, he has been 
up to his old games again, and no one knows 
what the end will be this time." 

You have yet to tell me what his old games 
are," said Aubrey, greatly interested in the 
young man to whom he had been in some way, 
it appeared, a rival. 

" He's fond of card-playing, and when he has 
half a chance he goes in for gambling. More 
often than not he wins just enough to keep up 
an excitement. Now and again he gets unduly 
elated with success, and takes 'too much,' 
and then no matter who comes in his way he is 
ready to fight them. He got into the hands of 
the police last night, and some of these young 
fellows have been clubbing together to bail him 
out this morning. They are awfully fond of 
him, and you will notice that if they can serve 
him to-day by doing his work — for which he 
won't be very fit — and keeping him out of the 



AUBREY RICE IN NEW SURROUNDINGS 12 1 

governor's way, they will make every effort. 
After all, Pritchard is not a bad fellow at heart ; 
if only he would leave card-playing and drinking 
alone, he might have a chance." 

At this moment the group of young fellows 
whose eager talking had arrested Aubrey's 
attention suddenly dispersed. Like magic each 
returned to his special locality behind the 
counter, and all were as busy as possible when 
the senior partner of the firm walked leisurely 
through the department, and bowed his acknow- 
ledgment to the respectful Good morning, sir," 
of Mr. Buncer, the man who had been talking 
to Aubrey. 

You here, Rice ? " he said, and his tone 
implied he was not altogether pleased. Mr. 
Everet- Arnold had never been too pleased with 
Aubrey, whose connection with the firm was 
not by any means agreeable to him. He would 
have preferred to place his second son, when of 
suitable age, in the position Aubrey Rice was in 
training to fill. True, his junior partner had 
the full right to establish the man chosen by 
himself in that position, but after the death of 
his son it had been as good as settled in Mr. 
Everet-Arnold's mind that no one would be 
brought forward ; hence the way was open for 
the son alluded to. Thus when, just before his 
death, Mr. Gurney had sent for him and ex- 
plained his reasons for wishing Aubrey Rice to 

I 



122 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

succeed to the position his son s death had left 
open, there was nothing for it but to agree to 
the plan. At the same time Mr. Everet- Arnold 
never felt quite at ease with the one whose 
advent into the firm had frustrated his own 
parental schemes. 

Aubrey knew instinctively that he was not a 
favourite with the senior partner, but he hoped 
to earn his esteem as time went on. The man- 
ner in which the question was put, ''You here, 
Rice ? " also convinced Mr. Buncer of the fact 
which he had from the first suspected. 

'' I came in the discharge of a duty, sir," 
Aubrey replied, with some display of spirit, 
" but I plead guilty to having taken longer than 
I need have done. I will be more careful not to 
waste time in future." 

"You will do well to be careful. Rice," said 
the senior partner, coldly. ''You will find your 
training as a clerk, when presumably you had 
plenty of time for gossip, is not likely to do you 
good service here. Exactness and promptitude, 
sir, are our watchwords as business men. If 
you have to visit a department on some express 
errand, get through your work with speed and 
go away; one loiterer makes many." 

Aubrey's cheeks flushed under the implied 
reproof. He, however, kept his temper, and, 
nodding to Mr. Buncer, beat a hasty retreat as 
Mr. Everet-Arnold continued his peregrinations 



AUBREY RICE IN NEW SURROUNDINGS 1 23 



through the spacious establishment of Catchpool 
Brothers. Long before the day was over Aubrey 
had forgotten the annoyance which moved him 
to a good deal of inward anger at the moment, 
but he did not forget that one, Stanley Pritchard, 
a young man about his own age, and — for he 
found an opportunity of getting an introduction 
to him in the dinner time — not unlike himself in 
height and figure, was running every chance of 
wasting his life. 

What could he do to prevent it ? 



CHAPTER XII 



A BANK HOLIDAY VISITOR 

Mrs. Rice was keeping her bed with a cold ; 
nothing to make her son anxious, but the fact 
was in itself sufficient to determine his move- 
ments for the August bank holiday. He would 
stay at home, and the old servant might take 
herself off for the day, a privilege gratefully 
accepted. But for this arrangement Aubrey 
would have spent the holiday with Gertrude in 
her Vicarage home. He contrived to see her 
for a few hours almost every Saturday, and 
once he had met her in town and brought her 
down to see his mother. 

The experiment had not answered. Mrs. 
Rice had simply stared at her future daughter- 
in-law, and maintained a grave silence all the 
time she was in the house. When addressed 
by Aubrey she only replied by nodding assent 
or shaking her head to imply the reverse. 
Gertrude was much struck by the pathetic 
scene, and her heart glowed with sympathy for 
Aubrey, condemned to live every day with one 
whose mental condition was so depressing. It 
needed all his assurances that '*love lightened 



A BANK HOLIDAY VISITOR 1 25 

the burden " to remove from her mind the 
weight of sadness which settled upon it as she 
realised what this sorrow must mean to him. 

Her visit had been shortened, and never 
repeated ; yet, strange to say, a week later 
and Mrs. Rice asked her faithful servant 
where the pretty lady was," enjoining upon 
her not to let her come again until Mr. Harold 
had returned ! 

The bank holiday was drawing to a close 
when a ring at the front door bell led Aubrey 
to go downstairs to interview a visitor. To his 
great astonishment, and not in any way to his 
displeasure, he found it to be Stanley Pritchard. 
Hitherto Aubrey s advances towards the young 
man whom he longed to help into a steadier 
life had signally failed. Pritchard evidently 
had no intention of growing too intimate with 
his rival. Like all minds weakened by self- 
indulgence, he retained a strong prejudice — 
daily increasing under the pressure of thought 
centring itself upon it — against the man who 
had, he believed, shadowed his prospects in 
life. The subject had never been mentioned 
between them, but had Stanley Pritchard said 
openly, Rice, I dislike you immensely," he 
could scarcely have gone further to prove what 
his mannerism plainly asserted to Aubrey when 
they chanced to meet. 

Hence to find him at the door when he 



126 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Opened it, in answer to the bell, was a great 
surprise to Aubrey. The next minute and he 
was telling himself it was the reward of his 
labour. Stanley had at length been won to 
believe that he cared for him and wished him 
well. 

Do you mind coming up to my den ? " he 
said after the first surprised greeting was over. 
" I am housekeeper and nurse combined to-day. 
My poor mother is slightly ill, and I have 
induced her to keep her bed. My room is next 
to hers, but if we talk quietly we shall not 
disturb her. Do you mind coming up ? " 

You are awfully kind," said Stanley as he 
followed Aubrey up the staircase, and he trod 
softly and spoke in hushed tones. Aubrey 
looked in upon his mother before drawing to 
the door which shut her room from his ; then 
he sat down after seeing Pritchard in the most 
comfortable chair which his den " afforded. 

I am very glad to see you, my dear fellow," 
Aubrey said, warmly ; he was impressed by the 
fact that Stanley felt it worth calling upon him 
on bank holiday, and at once saw an oppor- 
tunity of getting some influence over him ; 
but how did you find my address ? " 

The cashier gave it me," said Stanley, 
colouring. 

Oh, then, you intended coming down before 
you left business on Saturday," said Aubrey ; 
why did you not tell me at the time ? " 



A BANK HOLIDAY VISITOR 1 27 

''It was after you had gone," said Stanley. 

I happened to tell Warburton I expected to 
be this way to-day. I have an aunt lives quite 
close to you — Mrs. Spinot, of Clive Villa West 
— suppose you don't know her ? and he said 
'why, Mr. Rice lives near there,' so he gave 
me your address." 

"Then you have come down to spend the 
day with your aunt — is that it? and you thought 
you would look me up ? " Aubrey felt there 
was some hesitation in Stanley's manner, and 
he spoke more to put him at his ease than to 
get information. 

" No ; I haven't been to see my aunt yet," 
was the reply. " The fact is," he jerked out, 
nervously, "I'm in a little trouble, and I came 
to you to ask your help. I know we've not 
been much more than strangers to each other, 
but I feel you're the man of all others I respect, 
and I can tell you my troubles as I couldn't tell 
any one else." 

Aubrey brightened at this. Surely the 
opportunity longed for had come. Stanley's 
willingness to repose confidence in him was a 
positive pleasure at that moment, with his mind 
set upon being of some service to the young 
man. 

" Suppose you start by telling me your 
trouble," said Aubrey, and he threw himself 
back in his chair, prepared to listen. 



128 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

''Well, you see," said Stanley, reddening, 
*' I've been trying to keep straight lately. The 
fact is, I see what a fool I've been, and I'm 
determined to do better, but I'm pestered to 
death by an old chum, down in his luck, poor 
chap, to whom I owe a ten-pound note, and for 
the life of me I don't know which way to look 
for it ! My fiftieth cousin twice removed, Mrs. 
Everet-Arnold, advanced me this month's screw 
and next, to help me out of a little difficulty 
which has no connection with the present one. 
I haven't the face to go to her again, and my 
home folks are awfully poor. Dad's been ill for 
the last two years, and an officer's half-pay 
does not go far ; then my mother would break 
her heart if she thought I was in debt." 

" I scarcely see how I can spare you that 
sum," said Aubrey, as Stanley Pritchard paused. 

I am not too well off myself, and I have to 
save every penny I can put together as I hope 
to be married in twelve months or so." 

" Lucky beggar!" said Stanley, warmly. " I 
wish I'd your hopes. I've been engaged for 
the last three years to a jolly little girl, an all- 
round good sort, one who'll do what she likes 
with me one of these days ; but there, Fve no 
prospect of marrying — that is, not much before 
I'm forty at the rate I am going on now — " 

''But, Pritchard, you must stop the * going 
on ' to which you refer. You have surely done 



A BANK HOLIDAY VISITOR 



129 



with sowing wild oats ; for the little girl's sake 
you must settle down into a staid, sensible 
fellow ! " 

Ton my word, Rice, but that's just what I 
want to do, and nothing will help me better 
than getting quit of my debt to my old chum, 
for he's always looking me up, and go or come 
where he will, he carries a pack of cards in his 
pocket, and he gets me clean into a game before 
I know where I am ! " 

" I think you will ha^^e to sign the pledge 
against drink and cards before I can even think 
of helping you with money," said Aubrey, 
thoughtfully. 

With all my heart ! " said Pritchard, warmly. 
''You know I will do anything in the world for 
a fellow I respect." 

It seemed to Aubrey at that moment a good 
plan to secure Stanley's pledge ; it might be 
some restraint upon him in the future, and at 
least it would give him further opportunity of 
cultivating the acquaintance of the poor fellow. 

So, after a little considering, Aubrey drew up 
an agreement worded briefly but definitely, and 
Stanley Pritchard signed it — his own signature 
appearing below as witness. 

Then Mrs. Rice tapped on the wall, and 
Aubrey went quickly to her assistance. It was 
quite five minutes before his return. Stanley 
Pritchard had spent his time looking round 



130 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

with marked curiosity and interest. He might 
have been a private detective, so carefully 
did he lift things up from desk and table and 
place them back again exactly into their right 
places. A blotting book caught his attention. 
It was one Gertrude had sent Aubrey as a birth- 
day present. The firm cover — rosewood, with 
soft leather let in at the back — was lined with 
watered silk, upon which could be seen a few 
ink stains, due to the fact of the case being 
closed upon a newly-written letter. Stanley 
was much attracted by the strange lines placed 
backwards, with mere hints of what they were 
intended for. An unfinished M " was allied 
with an imperfect ''y," but the word "dear" stood 
out intact, only a shade or two lighter than it 
would have been upon the original letter, and 
smudged as would be natural when a silky 
substance had come in contact with half-dried 
ink. 

Stanley Pritchard was standing by the win- 
dow, carelessly glancing at the view of back- 
gardens and chimney pots, when Aubrey 
returned. 

''Ton my word, I feel awfully in your way," 
he said, in tones of apology. 

I think I told you my mother's servant was 
out for a holiday," said Aubrey. 

You said you were housekeeper, or some- 
thing of that sort," replied Stanley, ''so, of 
course, I drew my own conclusions. About 



A BANK HOLIDAY VISITOR 



that ten pounds, shall I give you an I O U 
for it?" 

"Not necessarily," said Aubrey. ''I shall 
have to write a cheque, and I will get you to 
sign the counterfoil, where I will put * borrowed.' 
When do you think of repaying it ? " 

"In six weeks' time from now. Will that 
do?" 

" Certainly ; I shall be glad of it then. 
Meanwhile you will keep this pledge which 
you have signed in your pocket, and when 
tempted to break it just read it over. That 
sort of thing has helped many a man to stand 
firm." 

" Thanks, awfully ; I won't forget. 'Pon my 
word, you're a brick. But you'll not tell my 
fiftieth cousin's husband — otherwise Mr. Everet- 
Arnold — what you've done for me, will you ? 
It would make it a little awkward." 

Aubrey promised to make no mention to 
any one about the small transaction. He wrote 
out the cheque, and Stanley Pritchard signed 
the counterfoil under the word "borrowed." 
Then, after more thanks and more promises of 
an amended life, he withdrew, leaving Aubrey 
to wonder how far his words might be accepted 
as the sincere purpose of his heart. Anyway 
he felt encouraged by the fact that Pritchard 
had sought him out and confided his difficulty 
to him. 



CHAPTER XIII 



A LOST LATCH-KEY 

Mr. Buncer was uneasy. Clearly things were 
not going very well with Aubrey Rice, and, 
personally, he liked the young man, and wished 
for him a safe arrival at the destination he had 
in view, namely, a junior partnership in the 
firm of Catchpool Brothers. Mr. Buncer's 
anxieties were based upon hints thrown out by 
Stanley Pritchard, who, to all appearances, had 
at length turned over most completely a new 
leaf. 

Do you notice how the governor hates our 
friend Rice ? " Stanley asked Mr. Buncer one 
day. " I don't wonder very much either. He's 
more than a bit of a prig. He has such a very 
superior air. Why, he found two apprentices 
having an innocent toss-up the day before 
yesterday, and he gave them a lecture as long 
as your arm — of which the youngsters made 
high game when he had passed on." 

I think he was right," said Mr. Buncer. 
" Everything has a beginning. Destroy the 
acorn and it can't grow into an oak tree." 

Well, every one to his taste," said Stanley, 
132 



A LOST LATCH-KEY 



sneeringly. I, for one, should never like to 
see Aubrey Rice master here. He'll turn the 
lot of us into pious hypocrites in no time. I 
could a tale unfold, but I don't mean to split 
unless the unexpected happens, and then, 
perhaps, I'll have to astonish the natives by 
speaking out a bit of my mind. By the way, 
what's happened ? Has the young man grown 
suddenly rich that he can afford to be married 
this autumn instead of waiting as he intended 
until next year ? " 

I think we won't discuss Mr. Rice's affairs, 
Pritchard," said Mr. Buncer, at length roused 
to stop this idle gossip. For my part, I like 
the young man very much. He has always 
inspired confidence with me, but I can't help 
seeing he's not just in favour with the 
governor." 

''You wouldn't wonder if you knew all I 
know," was Stanley's reply, such stress laid 
upon the words that their insinuating meaning 
was painfully apparent. 

It was after this conversation with Stanley 
Pritchard that Mr. Buncer felt so uneasy in his 
mind. He determined to seize the first 
opportunity of getting a word with Mr. Rice. 
Without appearing to be curious, he could soon 
gather whether Pritchard's information — re- 
specting his coming marriage, for instance — had 
any truth in it. 



134 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

. He was not long before he found his oppor- 
tunity. It was late in September. The 
autumn season was in full swing. The firm of 
Catchpool Brothers was unusually busy, the 
well-dressed windows, for one of which Aubrey 
had to be responsible (the result of his effort in 
the decorative line being a charming work of 
art), gathering many admirers from passers-by, 
and bringing many customers into the shop. 

Perhaps few realise, when gazing into the 
windows of a high-class drapery establishment, 
at what cost of labour the ''goods" have been 
thus daintily exposed to view. The greatest 
authority on dress — at least, so a Parisienne 
lady of to-day would assure us — has the 
reputation of having started life as an errand 
boy in one of our largest Regent Street houses. 
Chancing one day to pick out from his sweep- 
ings a variety of colours, he placed them on the 
counter, calling attention to their beautiful 
blending. His master chanced to see what 
had been done, and from that hour that young 
lad was called to fame. He had a gift — the gift 
of colour-blending. His efforts had no place 
for failure. Intuitively he saw what would best 
please and rest the eye, and he worked accord- 
ingly, until in time he became the one authority 
before whom all women of fashion (not to say 
frivolity) passed in sober earnest to know if he 
considered their costume ''in order" and "good 
taste." 



A LOST LATCH-KEY 



Something of this gift Aubrey Rice must 
have possessed, for he quickly caught the idea 
of dressing a window, and won lavish praise 
from many to whom such work meant only toil 
and failure. 

" I have been admiring your handiwork, Mr. 
Rice," said Buncer one morning, as they chanced 
to meet on their way to the dining hall. I 
have seen a good deal of window-dressing in 
my day, but nothing that took my fancy more 
than yours ! " 

Aubrey Rice laughed. I had no idea I had 
any taste in that direction ; no knowing where 
I should be by now if I had started earlier." 

Is it true you are soon to be married, Mr. 
Rice ? I thought you had no intention of 
being so until next year." 

This was a bold question for Buncer to put. 
He had no right of friendship which could 
justify curious questions about Aubrey's private 
affairs. 

Mr. Rice coloured, and he did not speak at 
ease when replying— 

I am expecting to be married before next 
month's out. It would be interesting to know 
how this piece of news has reached you, Mr. 
Buncer ? " 

Oh, nothing out of the way in Catchpool 
Brothers for rumours to get wind," he replied, 
evasively. "I heard it just now in a way that 



136 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

might be complimentary to your success, for it 
comes quite naturally to associate getting on in 
life with settling down. Perhaps you have had 
a fortune left you, Mr. Rice ? " 

If the previous question had been more or 
less suggestive of presumption on Buncer's part, 
Aubrey felt this one to be almost impertinent. 
Although seeking to be on the best of terms 
with every one associated with the business 
which had so strangely become his lot, he had 
never encouraged familiarity ; hence even Mr. 
Buncer, whom he had hitherto held in great 
respect, could not be expected to make any 
demands upon his personal confidence. 

" I am afraid I must decline to discuss my 
private affairs with you, Mr. Buncer," he said, 
coldly, and he turned round and walked away 
from the dining hall, which they were at that 
moment entering. 

As Buncer went in and took his seat at the 
table his thoughts turned instinctively to 
Pritchard's insinuations against Rice's character. 
To do Buncer justice, he was by no means a pry- 
ing, meddling - with - the - affairs - of - other - people 
kind of man. He had assumed the curious 
friend " from motives which were in no sense to 
be condemned. He wanted to clear up in his 
own mind the doubt instilled into it by 
Pritchard's words. He wanted to be in a posi- 
tion to say to that young man, ''You are 



A LOST LATCH-KEY 



labouring under a delusion ; Mr. Aubrey Rice is 
all square and above board, and if the governor 
does happen to be prejudiced against him, it 
cannot injure his upright character." 

But — and here came the pity of it — Aubrey 
Rice's words were not just what the sensitive 
Buncer had expected them to be, and his manner 
was distinctly unfavourable. 

It was about a fortnight after this that Aubrey, 
who had scarcely spoken to Mr. Buncer since 
the unfortunate interview, beyond the "good 
morning " which courtesy claimed when they 
met for the first time in the day, came up 
to him and said, There is a little mystery 
about a lost latch-key. When I reached home 
yesterday afternoon I missed mine from my 
greatcoat pocket. I remember seeing it about 
noon when I went to the lobby to get a 
memorandum book from my coat, and I suppose 
I must by accident have put it back into some 
other coat pocket. I have been enquiring of 
Jones, and he says your coat-peg has been 
moved and is next to mine. Have you seen 
anything of my key ? " 

" Nothing at all, Mr. Rice ; but don't let me 
be too sure it isn't there. Will you be good 
enough to examine my pockets for yourself? " 

When you have a minute to spare, if you 
will come with me," replied Aubrey ; and seeing 
the senior partner in the distance, he beat a 

K 



138 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

hasty retreat. No need to court his displeasure. 
He felt every day how unfortunate it was that 
a man with whom he would by-and-bye in the 
natural order of events have very close business 
connections was so disastrously hostile to him. 

The opportunity to examine Buncer's pockets 
of his greatcoat came late in the afternoon, 
but nothing was to be found of the missing 
key. 

" It is a singular loss," said Aubrey, looking 
perplexed. " Of course it can be easily 
repaired ; that's one blessing ! " 

You have, of course, well examined a/l the 
pockets of your own coat," said Buncer, 
sympathetically. 

Yes, all," replied Aubrey, as he spoke, 
taking the coat down from its peg and holding 
it bottom upwards, giving it a good shake. A 
stray copper or two fell out, a pair of gloves 
came well to view at the mouth of the large 
pocket, and — as if late to make up its mind to 
appear — down came the missing latch-key to the 
ground ! 

Well, I never ! " exclaimed Buncer, looking 
well pleased. 

Where can it have come from.^^" said Aubrey, 
who looked very much mystified. 

From a pocket you forgot to examine, Mr. 
Rice," said Buncer, laughing. It's an old 
way of making a mistake. I congratulate you 
that the missing article has come to light." 



A LOST LATCH-KEY 



" But it has not come to light ; I mean 
something needs explaining," said Aubrey, 
colouring. ''It was not there when I got 
home yesterday afternoon, nor when I left this 
morning. Some one has been playing me a 
trick." 

A practical joke, rather," said Buncer, look- 
ing amused. Jones is in charge here ; he will 
be in the secret and, perhaps, supply the 
motive." 

But Jones repeated, even with anger, that he 
knew nothing whatever about it, and ventured 
to ask if it were worth all this fuss and parade 
about a paltry key which could any day be 
replaced for ninepence or tenpence ? 

The incident was altogether forgotten by 
Aubrey by the following week, when all thought 
and attention were claimed by plans and affairs 
incidental to his wedding. Although not 
expecting this to take place until some day 
in the next year, he was convinced that under 
the new circumstances which had arisen in 
Gertrude's life — yet to be explained to the 
reader — it was not only right but best to 
arrange matters promptly ; and, after all, what 
joy it would be to settle down ! If he had a 
wish that it might have been a larger and 
better furnished house to which he brought 
Gertrude as his bride than, the one for so many 
years the home of his mother and himself and 



140 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

the faithful servant, he set it aside. Gertrude 
would understand, and perhaps be happier for 
a while in the smaller house ; and in every way 
changes were undesirable for his aged mother. 

''Would it be convenient for you to pay back 
the ;^io borrowed in August, Pritchard ? " 
Aubrey asked, two days before leaving business 
for ten days' holiday — the senior partner had 
been informed of his coming marriage when 
permission was asked to anticipate the few 
days allowed at Christmas by taking them now, 
and, in a moment of generosity, had doubled 
the privileged time. 

"Awfully sorry, but cruelly hard up!" was 
the reply. I mean," he added quickly, as if 
wishing to remove any false impression of 
poverty, '' I only have enough for my imme- 
diate wants ; no spare cash since I gave up 
the card-table. There are trials even in keep- 
ing straight. I shall always feel grateful to 
you for putting me right, and if you '11 trust me 
until next pay day I'll give you as much as I 
can spare." 

" For your own sake, clear the debt as soon 
as you can," said Rice, moving away, some one 
at the moment claiming his attention. 

" Does the cur mean that as a threat ?" said 
Pritchard to himself. *' A nice Christian thing 
to say. Sneak ! I '11 be even with him yet. 
Does the fool, I wonder, think I'm a little 



A LOST LATCH-KEY 



141 



namby-pamby baby to give up my cards and 
betting at his bidding ? Ah, a good joke ! " 

No. Aubrey Rice did not think Pritchard had 
given up either card playing or betting (which 
giving up, by the way he measured life, would 
have meant strength, not weakness), and because 
he pretended to have done so he lost heart over 
him, and knew, practically, that the £\o lent to 
him would never be paid back. 

Aubrey did not affect to keep a diary, but he 
had a fairly thick volume intended for one, and 
in this were various entries, for the most part 
quaint sayings or incidents which had struck 
him as worth remembering. Very occasionally 
he scribbled down an impression made upon 
his own mind by some passing event. That 
evening he wrote in his note-book — 

There are queer and various shaped devils, 
even supposing their colour is uniform. Stanley 
P. s tribe is peculiarly twisted. He thinks he 
deceives me, but I haven't the courage to tell 
him I see through him. He certainly is a 
splendid actor. May God forgive him ! It's 
an awful thing for a young man, of his own 
deliberate accord, to throw his own life away. 
I am sorry he ever came here ; the memory of 
that visit casts a shadow over my den. A very 
little more and I should hate the fellow." 



CHAPTER XIV 



A GRAVE BARGAIN 

Before going back to Gertrude Hastings, whom 
we left forming a decision which would entitle 
her to her Rectory home or banish her from 
it, namely, whether or not she would consent to 
break off her engagement with Aubrey Rice 
after he had been called to exchange an office 
in the city for a position in a house of business, 
we must make the acquaintance of one who 
cannot be altogether ignored in the telling of 
this story. 

We find her some three months previous to 
the events narrated in the last chapter — one 
day in the last week of July — in a house (in 
which it was evident she had only apartments) 
in Guildford Street, Bloomsbury. She was 
anticipating an interview which, it would seem, 
made great demands upon her temper, for every 
now and then she clenched her small hand, or, 
walking to the window, stamped her little foot, 
either action suggestive of the determination 
to brace herself up for some impending conflict. 

At length the one expected arrived. She 
saw him coming down the street in one of her 

142 



A GRAVE BARGAIN 



journeys to the window. Then, with a hasty 
glance at a mirror which hung over the fire- 
place, assuring herself that she was looking 
her best — oh ! what a pretty face it was, not 
young. But still round and with healthy colour- 
ing, to which at this moment excitement had 
added some charm — she took her seat where 
she could watch the opening of the door leading 
into the room. 

A few moments later and Stanley Pritchard 
entered. He came in looking tired and 
haggard, an anguished expression upon his 
face, listlessness and signs of boredom in every 
movement and gesture. 

The little lady in the chair inclined her head, 
greeting the visitor, who had entered without 
. knocking, with a stately bow. 

" Well, Judith," said the one addressed, 
closing the door behind him and lolling against 
it for support, have come to see you at great 
inconvenience. Have the goodness to tell me 
briefly what important business made you send 
for me?" 

A nice greeting for a wife to receive after 
her husband s nearly six months' absence," said 
the little lady in the chair, stiffly. Anyway, 
I'll not forget my manners. Take a seat, sir," 
and she waved her right arm with commanding 
gesture towards a chair opposite to herself. 
Stanley moved a smaller one from its 



144 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

position by the wall, and putting it down in a 
line with the one indicated, but some few feet 
further away, he sat down and said, ''You 
know it was agreed we should never see each 
other again, Judith ; what's the use of raking 
up old grievances ? You get your pay — 
the pay we mutually agreed upon — regularly ; 
why talk as if I had neglected you ? You know 
until the last day or two you had no wish to see 
me, and since you wrote I have not lost much 
time in coming. (By the way, have the good- 
ness to direct any letter in future to my private 
address. It is not safe to send to the firm ; 
might land me in no end of trouble ! ) " 

I am not likely to annoy you by a fruitless 
correspondence," said the little lady in the chair, 
and she posed her right elbow on the arm, and, 
supporting her chin in the palm of her hand, 
gazed earnestly into the young man's face. 
When she spoke her words fell from her lips 
slowly, deliberately ; they came as words are 
apt to come when they have been rehearsed 
over and over again — they lacked the ring of 
spontaneous originality — '* I wanted to see you 
now partly to tell you what I think of you, and 
partly to lay a plan before you which will be 
very much to your interest to consider — " 

** Well, supposing you cut it short by leaving 
out your first point ? — I know pretty well what 
you think of me — and let me hear your proposal," 



A GRAVE BARGAIN 



said he, and there was something akin to a 
sneer in his tones. 

''That would spoil it all," was Judith's reply. 
'' But," she continued, '' I will let you off mildly. 
You shall read what I think of you in your own 
admissions ! " She paused ; then, still with a 
fixed gaze upon Stanley, went on. '' Did you, 
some four years ago, during your summer holi- 
days in Wales, make the acquaintance of a 
widow and her daughter, and stuff them up 
with plausible tales — lies every one of them — 
and finally get engaged and married to that 
girl ? Answer, sir, did you ? " 

*' Yes," said Stanley, ''that is, perhaps I was 
not quite straightforward in telling you my posi- 
tion and circumstances at the time, but I was 
honourable enough in marrying you." 

" Breaking some one else's heart by doing so, 
cad ! " and the chin lifted itself as if in scorn, 
while the hand upon which it rested clenched 
itself and came down heavily upon the table 
near. " Did you persuade my mother to sell 
her little freehold, promising to invest the 
money to great advantage, and finally robbing 
her of every shilling of it — say, did you or did 
you not do this ? " and again the clenched hand 
struck the table near. 

" I— I—" 

"It's 'yes' or 'no,'" said Judith, sternly. 
" Confess, sir, have I not stated the whole 
truth, and nothing but the truth ? " 



146 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Yes, with slight exaggerations — a woman's 
way of putting things!" said Stanley, with scorn. 

Silence ! It's not for you to teach me how 
to be truthful ! You don't know even the 
A B C of that language. Wait, I haven't 
done. Are you, having ruined my life and 
happiness, besides breaking the heart of an 
innocent girl who loved you to devotion, and 
to whom you were engaged when you posed 
as my lover, are you at the present moment 
making advances — what you call love — to Mr. 
Everet-Arnold's only daughter, quite oblivious 
of the existence of our marriage lines, which 
my mother has in her safe keeping ? Say — 
don't lie to me, for I can read you through and 
through — is what I say a fact ? " 

''You were ill in May," stammered Stanley, 
in confusion. "The doctor thought you would 
not live. I was only anticipating a freedom I 
expected soon to be mine. How on earth did 
you get to hear of it, Judith ? " 

" That has nothing to do with it," she replied, 
tapping her little foot upon the ground. "If I 
care to make plans to counteract your wicked- 
ness, that's my account. Enough to tell you 
your base and brutal character is known, fully 
known, to those who will enlighten Ruth 
Everet-Arnold, if the need comes for her to 
know. Just, in passing, let me ask what you 
think of a man who could act in this heathen, 
this wickedly profane way ? " 



A GRAVE BARGAIN 



Stanley Pritchard literally quailed under his 
wife's searching glance. 

" I think he's a fool," he said at length, as he 
waited in vain for the pause to be ended. 

Then you quite understand you have to 
promise me on oath you will not tamper with 
the affections of Ruth Everet- Arnold ? You 
understand the penalty ? At a sign from me, 
and the whole truth comes out, and you will be 
— and most deservedly; — blackballed for life. 
Promise ; vow. Quick ! I have only a few 
moments to spare for this interview, and I have 
much more to say yet." 

I promise you, Judith. I'll not see more 
of Ruth than I can help, and I'll not forget — 
you hold our marriage lines ! " 

I should like to believe you," said the 
little lady, with a sigh, ''but it is absolutely 
impossible. Still, I shall have my eye upon 
you, and if I see any need to tell my story, i/ 
wtl/ be told, remember, and the world will know 
what kind of a man Stanley Pritchard has been 
and is ! But, now to business." 

She rose from her seat and drew a step 
nearer to Stanley. When she next spoke, her 
tones were lower and intensely earnest. 

'* You robbed my mother of four hundred and 
seventy-five pounds in hard cash, the sum 
realised by the sale of her little home. You 
allow me a week, £^2 a year. If I live to 



14^ THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

be ninety, counting my age now at thirty-five, 
you will have spent two thousand eight hundred 
and sixty pounds upon me. Add that to four 
hundred and seventy-five, and you get a total 
of three thousand three hundred and thirty-five 
pounds. Now, I have a proposal to m.ake. 
You may square up all accounts between us, 
that is, the money due to my mother on her 
freehold and the sum due to me as long as I 
may live (and it is bound to be well over ninety, 
for we are a long-lived family, you see) — I will 
let you off everything for five hundred pounds 
paid down within the next three months. I will 
sign a legal agreement releasing you from any 
further monetary responsibilities, and I will take 
myself off with my mother to the colonies, 
where we have both a pressing invitation to 
mingle our lots with an aged brother of my poor 
father." 

But how am I to find £^oo ? " gasped 
Stanley, who, to speak truly, was looking 
intensely relieved by his wife's proposition. 
Ages ago he had grown tired of her, and barely 
six months previous to this interview he had 
very gladly agreed to a separation on the 
ground of incompatibility of temper. It was 
always more or less a cause of irritation to 
think of his wife as living so near to him. He 
had told so many untruths in order to win her. 
A born actor, and with no sense of truth, 



A GRAVE BARGAIN 



149 



Stanley Pritchard was gifted — as fortunately 
few are — in that fatal power of personating an 
altogether imaginary character. He lived in a 
fictitious world, peopled with fictitious people. 
He had a rich uncle somewhere to the front, 
and a godfather who made him his special care. 
For himself, he was well to do ; his people were 
abroad. He would have gone with them, only 
his position in a wholesale firm in the city was 
far too good to be lightly thrown up. It was 
enough to know the Firm had, owing to his 
recent illness, given him six months leave of 
absence upon full pay — twenty-five pounds a 
month — to show in what estimation they held 
him, and so forth. 

It had been a cruel awakening to his wife to 
find that the messages read to her from time to 
time (before her marriage and after) from his 
parents were gross fabrications. In a moment 
of sudden anger he had let fall the fact that his 
people knew nothing whatever of his move- 
ments, and he never intended they should. 
(This was some time after they had come up 
to live in London.) At the time of their 
separation Judith had had good cause to regard 
much of what had been told her previous to her 
marriage as a cleverly arranged tissue of lies. 
Amongst other things her husband was some 
eight years younger than he had represented 
himself to be. His certificate of birth had 



150 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

been sought by a lawyer, and his parentage 
duly ascertained ; this was in measure satis- 
factory, but in no way agreeing with previous 
representations. It was also discovered that a 
certain Colonel Silver, the reputed godfather 
from whom cheques had certainly come from 
time to time, was actually in existence. Beyond 
this Judith and her mother knew next to nothing 
of the man whose handsome face and pleasant 
manners had won their friendship at a time 
when he was supposed to be recovering from 
the long illness referred to, and after very 
troubled experiences, in which they had proved 
him to be a man of most unscrupulous character, 
with that tendency to drift downwards which is 
so fatal to hope in the future, the separation 
had been decided upon as the lesser of two 
evils. If Stanley Pritchard was bent upon 
his own ruin, he must go alone and not take his 
wife and mother-in-law with him ! " 

The freedom which this separation had 
brought the mother and daughter from the 
daily possibility of evil had been a great relief 
after the years of turmoil and unrest. Stanley 
himself was too much steeped in selfishness to 
be otherwise than glad to escape restrictions 
which the poorest attempt at home life had 
imposed, but he had always regretted that his 
wife and mother-in-law had remained in London. 
Hence the plan suggested by Judith came 



A GRAVE BARGAIN 



as a sudden ray of satisfaction although the 
conditions were somewhat alarming. How 
am I to find ;^500? " he gasped. 

Insure your life ; borrow of some rich 
friend to whom you can pay back a week 
— my pay hitherto ; as broad as it is long," 
was the quick answer. ''You understand 
my bargain admits of no modification? I 
want the ;^500, and I must have it, the 
sooner the better, but anyway before the 
winter sets in. You have ruined our happi- 
ness, spoilt our lives ; it is the very least 
you can do by way of reparation. Set us 
free to go out of this country, right away from 
the bitter recollections associated with yourself." 

*' I will see what can be done and let you 
hear from me," Stanley said, after a pause in 
which he appeared in deep thought. *'The 
insurance sounds feasible enough ; if I fail 
there, there are other ways." 

''Honourable ways, remember," said his wife, 
laying great stress upon the adjective. 

" Of course. Do you take me for — " 
For what I have proved you to be," replied 
Judith, as her husband broke off, passion 
making it difficult to frame his words. 

''We may as well end this," he said, rising, 
and biting his lips. " Good-bye, Judith," he 
continued, nodding to her and moving towards 
the door. " Tell your mother I have enquired 
after her." 



152 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

- " You have two things to remember, Stanley," 
said his wife ; it was the first time during that 
interview that she had addressed him by his 
Christian name. Great as the one is relating 
to the ;^500, the other referring to Ruth Everet- 
Arnold is greater. I warn you her father shall 
hear the whole story of our marriage if I see 
reason to give it ! " 

For heaven's sake, don't take the bread out 
of my mouth, Judith," exclaimed Stanley. I 
am in good favour with the governor to-day, 
and am as likely as not making my way on 
towards a partnership in Catchpool Brothers. 
I shall have very good chances if things keep 
straight. Why should you spoil everything by 
your wretched spite ? " 

You can go, sir," said his wife, waving her 
hand towards the door. The programme for 
our interview did not include abuse ! " 

Stanley lost no time in taking his departure. 
It was when his retreating footsteps had died 
away, and the closing of the hall door had 
announced that he had left the house, that the 
little lady, who had throughout the interview 
maintained so much dignity, threw herself on to 
the couch, weeping bitterly. She lay with her 
face downwards, buried in a cushion, which 
hushed her sobs into broken and muffled 
sounds. 

**Oh, Stanley, Stanley!" she wailed, **why 



A GRAVE BARGAIN 



did you come to spoil my life ? Why did you 
teach me to care for you, and then spurn the 
very love you had awakened ? Why have you 
taught me to think of you at your best but a 
hideous deception, an ugly lie ? Why has 
nature painted you so fair to look upon, and in 
your heart there lurks a devil ? I call you 
hateful, and I know you to be mean and 
despicable, yet, oh, Stanley, if I could only 
find one little bit of truth about you I would 
let you see my love is not all dead ! But never, 
never again shall my sweet mother be tortured 
by your cunning and deceitful ways. No, dear, 
she at least must be spared more suffering. 
Your five hundred pounds will take her out to 
those who know and love her, making her in 
measure independent. I can work, and will earn 
money with which to come home again when 
the right time comes — when my sweet mother 
can spare me. . . . Then, oh, Stanley, will 
it be to die of a broken heart, knowing your 
evil life, or to wile you back to that love which 
was so sweet while it lasted ? . . . But 
I must come ; I must be at hand should you 
want me. I could not let you spoil my 
mother's life and mine ; but some day, when 
it is only my own of which I have to think, 
who knows what might happen ? I might even 
tell you then how I made up the romance about 
Ruth Everet- Arnold, which frightened you so 

L 



154 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

much to-day, out of a look which I saw you 
give her as you came out with her on your arm 
from the concert at St. James s Hall last week ! 
You never saw your poor little wife amongst 
the crowd, nor guessed how her ears had caught 
the name of Everet- Arnold when they called it 
out to say his carriage stopped the way ! Ruth 
is pretty — your own hands put her photograph 
in my album years ago — I am not likely to 
forget her, for once you confessed to liking her 
as a young school-girl a little . . . and I tell 
you, sir, that sooner than she should grow to 
care for you, the miserable farce we are playing 
shall end ! I will see the Everet- Arnolds, tell 
them who I am, get our marriage recognised, 
even though it is handicapped and fettered 
to-day by the legal separation ! " 

Thus musing, the little lady had very nearly 
worked herself up to a ''passion of fury," when 
the door of the room in which she was sitting 
opened, and an elderly lady entered. 

'' Did you get well through your painful 
interview, my poor child?" she said, as she 
lovingly kissed her daughter's fevered brow. 
*'Ah, I fear it has been too much for you! 
Oh, Judith, that we could go back to the 
time before he came to spoil our lives, when we 
were all the world to each other in our little 
home in Wales." 

"Well, we will soon be further away from 



A GRAVE BARGAIN I 55 



our trouble, darling/' said Judith, growing 
suddenly very cheerful. ** Stanley has agreed 
to the plan about the money. I only hope his 
stories about his rich godfather are not as 
mythical as so many other facts of his are. But 
that he had some one to borrow it of, I should 
never have dared to make the suggestion. Still, 
supposing he has, why should we lose the 
money which means our freedom ? " 

And, for reply, Judith's mother only sighed 
deeply, and shook her head scornfully. To 
her it seemed as if her daughter's life had been 
hopelessly spoiled, and her own happiness, 
wrapped up as it had been in that of her only 
child's, had been ruined beyond remedy, as far 
as this world was concerned. Distance might 
a little lessen the ignominy and disgrace of a 
marriage so associated with all that was painful, 
but inasmuch as she herself had been greatly to 
blame in sanctioning the union before testing 
the young man's story, she had long ago 
decided that the suffering involved must be 
borne patiently and in silence. No exposure 
of their wrongs could change or substantially 
improve the character of the man who, whi.e 
so prepossessing in appearance, and with 
manners which ladies are apt to describe as 
simply enchanting," had a heart as black as 
ink," judged by the life which was a tissue of 
fabrication and deceit. 



156 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Poor Mrs. Grey is not the only mother who 
has to regret receiving a son-in-law into the 
family about whose family and previous personal 
history far too little is known. Nor is she 
singular in preferring to bear her misfortunes in 
silence rather than take the world into her 
confidence. 



CHAPTER XV 



"NO answer" 

Miss Hastings, where are you ? " 

It was Daisys voice calling, and there was 
eagerness, if not excitement, in the tone. 

Gertrude was sitting in a summer-house at 
the end of the Vicarage garden. It was a 
glorious day in April (of the year of whose 
autumn we have spoken in the last chapter), one 
that comes to us in the midst of easterly winds 
and morning frosts, to encourage hope for the 
summer not far distant, probably to give place 
on the morrow to the cold which the winter had 
brought in and left, but all the same to be 
to-day enjoyed as a real and delightful pos- 
session. 

Miss Hastings had taken her book into the 
garden an hour ago, and had sat where her 
little pupils could see her from the schoolroom 
window, until the last ten minutes, when she 
had withdrawn to the summer-house, anxious to 
write some letters. 

To Daisy s question Gertrude gave quick 
answer by replying in her clear, sweet voice. 

Here, in the summer-house." And her little 

157 



THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

pupil came bounding across the lawn, breath- 
less and excited, holding a telegram in her 
hand. For you," she said, earnestly, ''and 
the boy didn't stop, as there was *no answer,'" 
and then with the native instinct of the true 
lady, Daisy turned and walked some little 
distance away, to leave her governess to herself. 

Had she been a few steps nearer, and had 
not her little mind been occupied while watching 
two sparrows nest-building — eager for the same 
twig, quarrelling over it with all the force and 
fury of rival claimants — she would have heard 
a moan likely to have struck terror into her 
small heart. 

With a face from which every particle of 
colour had fled, and lips which trembled with 
emotion, held under control with greatest dififi- 
culty, Gertrude Hastings read and re-read the 
telegram which she held in her hand. Well 
might the messenger who had brought it say 
there was no answer." 

The words admitted no doubt ; they were 
almost brutal in their directness. They were 
these — Your mother died a painless death this 
morning, passing away in her sleep. This 
announcement is sent instead of a letter. Do 
not think of coming. Servants instructed not 
to admit you. — Your Father." 

When some weeks before Gertrude had been 
dismissed from the Rectory, after a very painful 



"no answer" 



159 



interview, to well consider and give her final 
answer as to her willingness to break off her 
engagement with Aubrey Rice, she had been 
allowed three days in which to decide between 
her home and her lover. 

That decision had gone in a letter full of 
courteous speech and rounded sentences, so 
eager had the writer been to say her say with 
all tenderness and consideration for her parents' 
feelings ; but, though gently put, her answer 
was most emphatic. 

Her choice had been made too long ago to 
make any change possible. She had become 
engaged to Aubrey Rice because she loved him ; 
and if she loved him then, how much more so 
to-day ! His special calling at the time had 
not been in any sense a matter influencing her 
affections, which had been openly and honestly 
won, and with her father's and mother's full 
sanction. Neither could the fact that her lover 
had ceased to be an insurance clerk and become 
instead a draper's assistant tend to influence 
her love to-day. It was to the man she was 
betrothed — to an honourable and upright gentle- 
man — not to his position in any way." 

To this letter her father had made curt reply. 
"You have made your choice; you have now 
to abide by it." 

But her mother s letter had been full of tender- 
ness. "It will all come right some day," she had 



i6o THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



written. Do not be unduly distressed about 
your dear father's hardness. He has been so 
accustomed to enforce obedience that he resents 
most bitterly any opposition to his will. But, 
my dear child, according to my judgment, you 
are acting as only an honourable woman could 
act. I see things more clearly to-day than I did 
once, and I could thank God in this hour of 
trial that you are found faithful." 

This letter had brought a rush of love for the 
usually silent mother to Gertrude's heart, and she 
had written warmly and gratefully, to receive a 
pencilled line a few days later. " Do not write 
again just yet ; your father still angry. It must 
come right in time. Meanwhile, you have your 
mother s love and fullest sympathy. Tell Aubrey 
so. 

And now the telegram, which required *'no 
answer," told Gertrude she was bereft of that 
mother. . . . 

After a few minutes Daisy returned to the 
summer-house to find Miss Hastings weep- 
ing. Quite awed by the sight of grief so 
terribly severe, the child was quick to fetch her 
mother, and then it was that Gertrude first 
realised the depth of that good little woman's 
sympathy. 

''My dear Miss Hastings," she said, as she 
put her arm around the weeping girl, let me 
be all I can to you. I am neither clever nor 



**NO answer" 



i6i 



strong-minded, but I have some very genuine 
love in my heart, and until your own home is 
restored to you, I hope you will consider ours 
as yours. I am sure my Vicar will endorse 
every word I am saying." 

And thus it happened that Gertrude Hastings 
found, as others have so often done, that even 
sorrows have their compensations. Her father's 
anger had created the possibilities of friendship 
which, but for some shock to awaken, might 
have slumbered on unrecognised. 

In the days which followed, as she saw more 
of the force and beauty of the character which 
had always impressed her, but for which now 
she had the deepest admiration, she wondered 
how much of its point and power might be 
directly traced to the discipline of everyday 
struggle with poverty. She remembered when 
visiting a Staffordshire pottery on one occasion 
to have seen the ware waiting for the finishing 
touches of a skilled hand, whose work it was to 
paint upon this receptive material floral decora- 
tion of delicate tint and colour. How can you 
insure the colour lasting ? " had been the not 
unnatural question. And the answer was in 
itself a volume of suggestion. It's burnt in ; 
baked until there is no moving it ! " 

''Ah," thought Gertrude in those days, as she 
watched good little Mrs. Brownlow with eyes 
which saw points before unobserved, *' surely 



1 62 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

such characters are made beautiful with God's 
own colouring, burnt in in the fires of affliction 

The spring had long given place to summer,, 
and autumn had come within sight, when one 
morning Mrs. Brownlow came to Gertrude 
with a troubled face. 

Oh, Miss Hastings," she exclaimed, sitting 
down beside her and taking her hand in hers, 

I must tell you our news. The Vicar has 
met with an old colonial friend in town who 
urges his acceptance of that private chaplaincy 
in Melbourne, recently offered to him but at 
once declined. You will remember we told you 
something about it at the time, and he has 
actually insisted upon paying all our debts here 
for us to make our going possible." 

'' But why look troubled over such good 
news ? " said Gertrude in surprise ; to her own 
heart the very mention of paid debts brought a 
feeling of relief on behalf of her friend. 

" Because— because it would mean our 
parting with you, dear," said little Mrs. 
Brownlow, and genuine tears came into her 
eyes as she spoke. Then she added in a 
lowered voice, " Of course, you would not 
wish to leave England, with your marriage 
taking place next year, and, if we go, it must 
be at once — as soon as the Bishop will sanction 
our moving. I am wondering if your wedding 
could take place from Edgcombe Manor 
House.?" 



"NO answer" 



No, no, not from there ! " said Gertrude, 
with flushed cheek. I must not go to the 
Manor House while my father remains so bitter 
against me. Dear Aunt Matilda quite under- 
stands, and thinks as I do about it. But do 
not let my plans cloud the brightness of yours," 
she added. I am indeed glad that the Vicar 
and yourself are likely to have less hard times in 
the future than in the past," and she stooped 
down and kissed Mrs. Brownlow affectionately. 

And this explains how it happened that 
Gertrudes marriage was arranged for that 
autumn, instead, as had been previously planned, 
sometime during the following spring. 

It was a very quiet wedding, the two little 
girls acting as bridesmaids — some small con- 
solation in their genuine sorrow in parting with 
their beloved Miss Hastings — Mr. and Mrs. 
Butler- Edgcombe the only guests besides Guy 
Manville, who acted as "best man." 

"And you have not regretted your change of 
business," the Squire had said to Aubrey Rice 
as they strolled down the Vicarage garden, 
while "the bride" was attiring herself for her 
marriage, and Guy Manville was talking with 
the Vicar. 

" Only as it has affected Gertrude," was the 
quick reply. "Her father s displeasure has 
seemed to me most unjust ; and had I antici- 
pated it to have lasted as it has done, I 



164 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

certainly should, for her sake, have hesitated to 
incur it. It is difficult for me, with my Quaker 
ancestry, and all that that means by way of 
ennobling business life of every kind and 
degree, to find excuse for the unreasonable 
prejudice against trade as the calling of a 
gentleman which exists in the Rector's mind. 
It seems to belittle the character of any honest 
mind to seriously entertain objection to an 
honourable calling because it is associated with 
a shop front instead of an office on the third 
floor!" 

**You are right, sir," said Mr. Butler- 
Edgcombe, emphatically; I feel entirely with 
you on the matter. For myself, I make every 
allowance for the Rector's personal antipathy to 
our marriage, but a little thing has come to our 
knowledge of late over which my wife and I 
have had many a quiet laugh. We are keeping 
it to ourselves, but I suppose it will have to 
come out one day. It is this, that I, once the 
page-boy of Edgcombe Manor and later the 
butler, proud of my yeoman ancestry in spite of 
the anger provoked when the butler became the 
master, discovered in tracing out my own 
ancestral tree — for I was curious to know if my 
folks had ever been other than farmers — that 
two centuries back a Farmer Butler married an 
Edgcombe, the third daughter and seventh 
child of a family of ten, from whom I date my 



NO ANSWER " 



165 



actual descent. So you see, it, absurdly enough, 
turns out " — and the Squire rubbed his hands 
gleefully — I have had the honour, although 
ignorant of the fact at the time, of marrying a 
very distant cousin of my own ! " 

" And you have actually made this discovery 
and kept it to yourself?" said Aubrey, with 
genuine surprise. 

" Certainly," was the reply. It might or it 
might not make any difference to those who 
have been good enough to stand out against 
our marriage, but at least it gives me some- 
thing to say, when the right time comes, about 
the Edgcombe blood flowing in my poor 
plebeian veins." 

I am afraid, had I been in your place. 
Squire," said Aubrey, warmly, I should have 
lost no time in bringing this fact before those 
whom it might influence." 

"Perhaps," was the reply, **it would humble 
my pride too much if I did this. You see," 
the Squire added, plucking a laurel leaf from a 
bush they were passing and rubbing it gently 
between his hands, "my views of life are in no 
way changed by the discovery. I rather expect 
that you feel as I do in these matters, Mr. 
Rice," and Mr. Butler- Edgcombe stood still 
and repeated in solemn and impressive tones 
the words — 

"The rank is but the guinea stamp. 
The man's the man for a' that." 



1 66 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

At this moment little Daisy came tripping 
out into the garden in her pretty white brides- 
maid's dress — cashmere, trimmed with rows of 
baby-satin ribbon — and shyly approaching 
Aubrey, said, Will you please come and see 
—the bride?" 

The Squire joined the Vicar and Guy Man- 
ville as Aubrey, feeling very solemn and — must 
it be admitted ? — a little nervous, hastened with 
all speed to the drawing-room. 

This was his first meeting with Gertrude 
since his last visit, about a week previously. 
He had asked for her on his arrival, an hour 
ago, but only to be told she had not left her 
room ; and it had suddenly dawned upon him 
that bridegroom and bride were not supposed 
to meet on their wedding-day until at the 
marriage service the one awaited the other 
at the church. Hence partly his apparent 
nervousness when sent for to the drawing- 
room. Gertrude was struck by it. 

Are you quite well ? " she asked, anxiously, 
after the first greeting was over and Aubrey had 
praised her pretty toilette, as any other bride- 
groom might have done his bride's. 

Quite, dearest," he said, as he stooped and 
kissed her, **but," he added, am badly want- 
ing to get away for a holiday. Oh, what a 
restful time we will have, darling. I was 
thinking this morning how glad I was we 



"NO answer" 



167 



were going to Ventnor. I can quite sniff 
sea breezes in the mere mention of the place. 
I think I have found business a little trying 
the last week or so. The senior partner has 
had some very special worry, I am afraid, 
and — but there is no need to talk about it just 
now. I had forgotten this is not one of my 
ordinary visits, with the limited opportunity of a 
quiet little talk together. Gertrude, in less than 
an hour you will be mine, darling — mine for 
ever ! What do you say to that ? " 

Gertrude had no words, but her steady gaze 
of beaming happiness into Aubrey's eyes said 
all he wanted to know. Her thought perhaps 
at that moment was one of intense joy in realis- 
ing that the hour had arrived when she would 
be no more homeless, but protected and cared 
for by one upon whose love and tender dealing 
she would have some claim. 

Gertrude never knew until her father thrust 
her so cruelly from her home how much it had 
been to her. With friends who had been quick 
to offer her hospitality — the Manor House 
people and the good Vicar and his wife more 
especially— -she knew her position was not 
hopeless isolation, but she had missed the spot 
to which she had a claim by right of heritage, 
as one misses the existence of the actual home 
when circumstances have made it necessary to 
store the furniture and travel for a while. 



1 68 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

No wonder then that the thought of her 
marriage meant to her the restored joys of a 
home she could call her own. 

She looked very charming in her bridal dress, 
a soft tinted brown merino with velvet trim- 
mings of darker shade. The scarlet poppies 
and wheat ears, a millinery decoration very 
much in vogue at the time, suited well the 
colouring of her hair and complexion, brighten- 
ing the general effect of her appearance, while 
giving a pleasing finish to the soft velvet toque 
which rested so gracefully upon her well-shaped 
head. 

A few tender kisses upon the blushing face 
turned up to meet his caress, and Aubrey said, 
with his arms still encircling Gertrude's slim 
figure, My darling, I cannot tell you how 
I grieve to think this day should be shadowed 
for you by your father's displeasure and absence 
from our wedding. Are you afraid to begin life 
with me, thus clouded and chilled ?" 

No, Aubrey," said Gertrude, looking up 
frankly into his face. I cannot say I do not 
grieve over my poor father's injustice to us 
both, because I do ; but I am yours so fully in 
heart that I feel difficulties and trials can only 
make us more completely one ; and, with God's 
blessing, what have we to fear ? " 

I do thank you for so willingly falling into 
my little plan of calling to see my mother to-day 



'*NO answer" 



169 



before we start for our wedding tour," said 
Aubrey a moment or two later. Besides the 
thought of giving her pleasure, I have the secret 
hope that she may have one of those clearer 
moments (which she has had now and again 
lately, when the mind seems for a brief interval 
to regain its lost balance) and understand that 
you, whom she persists in talking to Sarah about 
as ' the pretty lady,' is her boy Aubrey s wife. 
If only she could once recognise this fact, it 
would make everything so much happier ! " 

''If she does not understand to-day, she 
might later," said Gertrude, eager to leave 
Aubrey all his bright hopes in the matter, yet 
with a mental reservation for any possible 
disappointment. Then she added shyly, 
blushing rosy red, ''I do not forget I am 
privileged from to-day to take your poor invalid 
under my charge as a daughter would do a 
mother. It will be a real joy to me to bear 
your burden with you." 

There was no time for more. With a gentle 
knock at the door, Mrs. Brownlow at this 
moment came into the room, the two little 
bridesmaids following, and within a few 
minutes, Aubrey and his best man " had 
repaired to the church. 



M 



CHAPTER XVI 



THE FIRST caller" AFTER THE WEDDING 

The 5.30 p.m. express from the North had just 
gone. The few passengers who had arrived by- 
it had left the platform with their luggage, as at 
least ten minutes had elapsed between arrival 
and departure. Only one remained, but she 
could not be reckoned amongst the passengers ; 
she had her special right to be recognised as 
one of the railway staff, if daily presence at the 
station for the last seven or eight years and 
attention to all trains coming in upon that plat- 
form could constitute her such. 

Aubrey's mother looked older than when we 
saw her last. Her sweet faded face had lines 
about the mouth and eyes which were sugges- 
tive of added years, and her movements were 
slower ; she was growing weary of the daily 
tramp to meet the train by which the expected 
son never arrived. 

Harold has missed his train," she was saying 
to herself, ''but he will come to-morrow!" 
when suddenly she paused and stared hard at a 
gentleman who at that moment came towards 
her on the platform down which she was walking. 

170. 



THE FIRST "caller" AFTER THE WEDDING 171 

He was a well-built young man of about five- 
and-twenty, tall and dark. His face wore an 
anxious, almost fretful expression. He was 
walking very slowly, as if in deep thought, his 
€yes on the ground. He appeared not to notice 
the old lady at first, who was eyeing him with 
rapt, almost painful attention. When he did, it 
was to evince annoyance at being so closely 
scrutinised, and to turn round sharply and walk 
back the way he had come. 

A porter chanced to pass at the moment. 
To him Mrs. Rice went up quickly, saying 
excitedly, Yes, it's the same, and he had no 
right there ; tell him so. He is not to come, 
I say, and write at my son's table." 

The porter was gazing at the speaker with 
an amused but not unkind expression. For 
once the old lady had varied her conversation. 
Apparently a new thought had taken possession 
of her mind. Almost as he thought this, 
Aubrey's mother lost the light which had come 
into her eyes while speaking, and looked dazed 
and uncomfortable. The next moment and she 
was babbling her childish prattle : Harold 
had not come, he had missed his train ; but 
to-morrow, yes, to-morrow, he would be here." 

" Who is that strange, little woman? " asked 
the gentleman who had attracted so much of 
her attention as she passed him muttering to 
herself He addressed the porter. 



172 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

''A Mrs. Rice; comes here every day. 
Got a bit brain-turned over a son's death some 
years ago ; meets all the trains — " 

But the man to ask the question had passed 
on, either not interested enough to hear the 
answer through, or suddenly thinking of some- 
thing which demanded his whole attention. 

Well, I'm blue if I'll go out of my way to 
oblige ye again," said the porter, looking 
angrily after his retreating figure. Easy 
enough to tell you're no gentleman. Your folks 
couldn't afford to pay for manners where you 
went to school, so you're just forced to shift 
through life without none ; more's the pity, 
for, take you on the whole, you're not a bad- 
looking chap." And upon this the porter went 
on to do some lamp-cleaning, for which purpose 
he had originally made his way to the special 
platform. 

Meanwhile, Aubrey Rice's mother took her 
way homewards. The autumnal evening was 
a little chilly and she drew her shawl round her 
as she walked slowly down the road which led 
from the station to her house. 

"It's a pity he missed his train," she was 
saying to herself. Harold's a nice boy, and 
very fond of young Lord Horrick." As she 
reached her litde home, Aubrey, who had been 
watching for her at the window (he had 
purposely not sought her at the station, fearing 



THE FIRST CALLER " AFTER THE WEDDING I 73 

the risk of a scene when bringing Gertrude to 
her notice), came out before she had made any 
attempt to open the door. 

" Come in, my sweet mother, and welcome my 
wife to her new home," he said, watching with 
anxiety the effect of his words upon the dulled 
and enfeebled brain. 

The word *'wife" had made some impression. 
Mrs. Rice looked up as if startled. Eh ? " she 
said, putting her head on one side as if in an 
attitude of listening. This effort to question 
was a hopeful sign. It was only quite recently 
that she had shown interest in anything which 
might be said to her. 

Come and see my wife," Aubrey replied, 
taking the old lady by both hands and gently 
helping her into the house. 

Wife ! wife ! " she repeated softly to herself, 
as if the word held a memory, and the memory 
was struggling for a place in the poor tired 
brain. 

Then Gertrude appeared, blushing and smil- 
ing, and straightway greeted her mother-in-law 
with a kiss. And Mrs. Rice had looked her up 
and down, and now, with hands released from 
Aubrey's hold, had gently stroked her clothing. 
Then her dulled eyes had brightened, a look of 
something akin to intelligence had swept over 
the faded face, and her lips had framed the two 
emphatic words, " Aubrey s wife ! " 



174 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

And then the old lady took Gertrude by the 
hand and led her into the little sitting-room 
and sought to remove her hat, the best welcome 
she could possibly have given to her new 
daughter. 

Sarah was called and tea brought in, and 
Gertrude was placed by her husband in the 
chair by the teacups, the seat so long vacated 
by his mother ; and Mrs. Rice submitted herself 
to be put by her son's side at the other end of 
the table. But beyond this Aubrey could not 
win his mother. She quickly subsided into her 
self-absorbed mood and talked of her boy who 
had missed his train, and of "young Lord 
Horrick/' his friend. 

But Aubrey felt there was much cause for 
thankfulness, if only to see Gertrude presiding 
at the tea-tray and his mother raising no objec- 
tion. He chatted cheerfully during the meal» 
in his heart a great joy. Gertrude was his own 
property and possession. Late in the evening, 
when he had seen his mother to her room, they 
would return to town to be ready to take an 
early train in the morning to the Isle of Wight. 
It was Aubrey s intention, his wife urging the 
idea upon him, to shorten their originally 
planned absence from home, so that some 
portion of the short holiday might be devoted 
to the house and the mother. 

It will give me time to learn how I can be 



THE FIRST ''caller" AFTER THE WEDDING 1 75 

of use to her before you are really away all 
day at business," Gertrude had pleaded. " I 
do want to be helpful to her, but my very 
anxiety might lead to my overdoing it without 
you somewhere about, Aubrey ! " 

They had finished tea, and were just rising 
from the table when there came a ring at the 
bell. 

" Your first caller, Gertrude," Aubrey said, 
with a laugh. Shall we say, * not at home ' ? 
I think we might be forgiven on this occasion ; 
don't you ? " 

Before there was time for any reply, their 
attention was called to Sarah, who was in angry 
remonstrance at the door with the supposed 
visitor or visitors. Aubrey left the sitting- 
room quickly, closing the door behind him. 

Sarah turned upon him a very flushed and 
indignant face. 

" This police officer says he has come on 
business, sir," she said, hotly, and I told him 
you couldn't be seen. This was your wedding 
day, and you had only looked in to see your 
dear mamma was all right ; and you were 
going off by train, and I refused to tell you, 
sir, and this rude fellow is insisting." 

*'Come this way, please," said Aubrey, and 
he opened the door of the small drawing-room, 
and bowed in one of the two police officers ; the 
second waited outside the door, saying simply, 



176 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

''After you, sir, please." And Aubrey passed 
into the room, never dreaming that there was 
something beyond politeness in the action of 
the man who followed him. 

It was the last to enter who was the chief 
spokesman upon what proved to Aubrey a 
startlingly painful interview. 

It is my duty to arrest you, Mr. Aubrey 
Rice," said the one referred to, ''on a charge 
of forgery," and he forthwith produced the 
warrant and read it to the amazed master of 
the house with cruel punctiliousness, adding, 
"and the quieter you go the better, sir. There 
is a cab waiting for you a little further down 
the street." 

"It is utterly impossible! There is a 
mistake somewhere ! " gasped Aubrey. " You 
cannot mean you are actually taking me away 
— in charge ? " 

" I fear there is no other course open to us, 
sir," said the Inspector not unsympathetically. 
The terror-struck face of his prisoner as he 
grasped the state of affairs must have moved 
even the hardest heart. 

" Well, let me just go and account for my 
departure to my wife and poor invalid mother," 
Aubrey said, trying to speak carelessly, but his 
voice seemed hollow and weak. 

" You can go where you like, sir, under my 
escort," said the Inspector, taking some certain 



THE FIRST " CALLER " AFTER THE WEDDING 1 77 

Steel implements from his pocket and proceed- 
ing to adjust them to Aubrey's wrists with the 
dexterity of long practice. 

Like one in a dream he submitted to the 
ignominy. Then he asked the Inspector to call 
the servant, who would doubtless be waiting 
outside the door. Sarah came in trembling and 
agitated, her eyes red with weeping. Some- 
thing one of the officers had let fall in insisting 
upon seeing her master had more than sug- 
gested trouble ; there were words to the effect 
that he would have to ''postpone his wedding 
festivities for a bit." 

I want you to call my wife out of the room, 
Sarah," Aubrey said, and now he spoke with 
calm collectedness, and his voice sounded less 
strained than before, ''and tell her as quietly as 
you can that there is some dreadful mistake in 
this business." He glanced down pathetically 
at his handcuffs and his lip trembled. How 
could even the strongest man pass through this 
humiliating experience with feelings unmoved ? 
*' When you have explained this to her she 
had better, if she does not mind, come in here 
for a moment. I suppose there will be no 
objection to that, Inspector?" 

" Certainly not, sir ; make what plans you 
like. So long as I am here you can take your 
own time." 

Sarah was by this time weeping bitterly. 



178 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

She had uttered a cry of anguish as Aubreys 
unconsciously drew her attention to his hand- 
cuffs, subsiding on to the nearest chair and 
bursting into tears. 

Oh, my poor master ! What can it all 
mean ? " she wailed, and Aubrey said somewhat 
sternly, "It is only an unfortunate mistake, 
Sarah ; it will be cleared up in no time. Don't 
make such a fuss about it, as if I had actually 
been doing something wrong. You must take 
care of my wife and mother while I am away ; 
it can only be for a day or two I hope, at the 
longest." He glanced at the Inspector as he 
spoke, but that good man suddenly looked 
away as if not wishing to be questioned toa 
closely. 

Meanwhile the door of the room in which 
they stood, which had only been drawn to when 
Sarah entered, was pushed open and Gertrude 
made her appearance. Coming out in search 
of Sarah (Mrs. Rice getting restless and 
fidgetty) to ask what should be done, and not 
finding her in the kitchen, she was on her way 
upstairs when she heard her cry of anguish. 
The next moment and she had entered the 
drawing-room, thinking Sarah was in trouble 
and needing her help. 

It is impossible to describe the expression 
which came into Gertrude's face when she saw 
her husband standing between the constables,. 



THE FIRST caller" AFTER THE WEDDING 1 79 

handcuffed. It was one of surprise and indigna- 
tion, and into this there seemed to gather the 
tenderest pity for him, her noble Aubrey. 

Gertrude," said her husband, hesitating to 
call her by a more endearing term before 
others, **by some unfortunate mistake, yet to 
be explained, I am taken up on the charge of 
forging cheques. The Firm have been enquir- 
ing into the matter for the last few days. The 
senior partner had hinted to me his great 
anxiety. Now they have obtained a warrant 
out against me ! I can only think a few hours 
and I shall be sent back home again with an 
apology for the blunder ; but meanwhile — 
meanwhile, Gertrude, take care of my poor 
mother, who will, of course, know nothing of 
this ; and of yourself" (the last words were 
added in lowered tones). And now, Inspector, 
I am ready ! " 

Gertrude darted a wistful look of love and 
pity straight into her husband's eyes, the 
voiceless message from an anguished soul ; but 
she never lost the control of her feelings. 
Unconsciously for one brief moment, quite 
forgetful of the eyes which watched her, she 
pressed her cheek to his shoulder as she said 
firmly, but in lower tones, "You may depend 
upon me for — for everyt,hing, Aubrey." ' 

" God bless you ! " her husband whispered, 
but evidently could not trust himself to say 



l8o THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

more. Then Sarah, with a wail, throwing her 
apron over her head, ran out into the kitchen, 
while Gertrude walked beside her husband to 
the door, and smiled upon him as he turned at 
the gate to look at her. The cab had come up, 
a four-wheeler, and Aubrey got in first, the two 
men following. In a moment it had driven 
away. And Gertrude closed the door noiselessly 
and re-entered the drawing-room, where she 
sank upon her knees by the couch, stifling a 
low, anguished cry as she buried her face in a 
soft downy cushion. For ten minutes she re- 
mained thus, then rose to her feet and went 
into the sitting-room, to find the aged mother 
fast asleep in her arm-chair. Leaving her there 
she passed on into the kitchen. Sarah was in 
a rocking-chair, swaying herself backwards and 
forwards with an oft-repeated Oh dear ! oh 
dear ! oh dear ! " 

Hush, control yourself, Sarah," Gertrude 
said earnestly. *'We must not let Mrs. Rice 
know anything about this trouble. It will be 
all made right to-morrow. I see quite well 
what has happened ; some evil-disposed person 
has been plotting against Mr. Rice. But he 
will be quite able to explain when the time 
comes." 

"But, oh dear! oh dear!" began Sarah 
again, bursting into a fresh flow of tears, "I'll 
never get over it, never. You don't love the 



THE FIRST ''caller" AFTER THE WEDDING l8l 

young master as I do, or you would never take 
it so quietly. I nursed him when he was a 
baby, and I have watched him all my life, and 
there never was a nicer or more upright lad. 
He couldn't tell a lie if he tried ; nor could he 
do an underhand or deceitful trick — no, not if 
saving his life depended upon it. I tell you, 
young lady, it's an awful calamity, coming and 
fetching him off in this style. If you had seen 
him grow up, first a wee babe, and then a 
little fellow in knickers, and then a fine young 
man who always spoke civil to everybody, you 
would feel the disgrace as I do." 

" Perhaps I am trying no^ to let you know all 
I feel," said Gertrude, and she spoke with 
gentle dignity; ''but a wife's love must be 
something different from everything else, be- 
cause you see it has such a lot of hope in it. 
Now, I hope when to-morrow comes to see my 
dear husband back again, explaining to us the 
mystery of all this happening, and if I had to 
say to him then ' I never left off crying after 
you went until you came back, and I had to 
neglect your mother to find time to indulge my 
grief,' don't you think it would be a pity, 
now ? " 

"Neglect the poor missis? Never! Mrs. 
Rice, junior, as I suppose you'll have to be 
called, miss." And as if her own remark had 
ushered in a new thought, Sarah suddenly 



1 82 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

sprang up, and, wiping away her tears and 
straightening her cap and apron, she passed 
through the kitchen door into the sitting-room, 
and closed the door behind her. 

And Gertrude waited to see what would 
happen next. She was feeling sick and giddy 
with the shock, but she schooled herself to 
silent endurance. The thing was too pre- 
posterous to be made into a trouble. Aubrey 
commit a forgery ? For what motive ? Aubrey 
was not poor ; he had no expensive tastes ; no 
debts — he hated debt, he had often told her ; 
of course, something had happened to account 
for the blunder, but it would be explained away 
on the morrow. Aubrey would be taken into 
court, and the magistrate would only need to 
look at him to see he was innocent of whatever 
charge they made. Then he would give just 
the explanation wanted to trace the real culprit, 
and get for himself overwhelming apologies. 

Later, when Sarah had put her mistress to 
bed, she returned to the kitchen to find Mrs. 
Aubrey Rice with very pale cheeks and red 
eyes. 

The immediate need for self-control had 
passed, and Gertrude had been indulging in 
the luxury of a good cry. The contrast 
between the young lady left in the kitchen 
half an hour ago and the one found there 
upon Sarah's return was quite enough to 



THE FIRST CALLER " AFTER THE WEDDING 1 83 

appeal from that good woman's censure to pity. 
Forgetting everything but the cruelly start- 
ling way in which the young wife had been 
robbed of her husband, old Sarah became 
suddenly very humble. 

Poor young lady ! " she said, with deep 
sympathy in her voice, and Gertrude's tears 
began to flow afresh, " I ask your pardon 
for my rough words a while ago. It was only 
an old woman's rubbish. Of course you love 
my poor young master a deal better nor I, 
that's why you didn't let him see your grief, 
while I was an old fool and hollo'd like 
anything!" And with this for amends, old 
Sarah felt to have made her peace with her 
young masters bride. And Gertrude's bitter 
desolation and loneliness were some degrees 
less for the old servant's improved demeanour. 



CHAPTER XVII 



''AND IT WAS night" 

Poor Gertrude Rice was so ill the day follow- 
ing the events narrated in the last chapter that 
by noon she had to give in and return to bed. 

" I shall be all right in a few hours, Sarah," 
she had said, trying to speak cheerfully. I am 
usually so very strong, but yesterday was per- 
haps too much for me." 

However, by night she became delirious, and 
Sarah, in great trouble, having no one to confer 
with, took it upon herself to send for the doctor, 
who came every few weeks to see Mrs. Rice. 

''Well, Sarah, mistress ill again?" said Dr. 
Seymour, as he came obedient to her summons. 

"Well, yes, sir, it is my mistress, only it 
happens to be vsiy young one. I've Mr. Aubrey's 
wife staying here while he is away from home 
on important business for a couple of days or so, 
and she seems so queer in her head this evening 
I can't make anything of her." 

" Indeed!" said the doctor, with that habitual 
reticence which characterises the medical pro- 
fession on its way from the house door to the 
sick room. "Well, take me to her," he added, 

184 



*' AND IT WAS NIGHT " 



and he mounted the staircase, waiting on the 
landing for Sarah, who had to take her time in 
following. 

That young lady," he said, ten minutes 
later as he left the sick room with the old 
servant, is suffering from a severe nervous 
shock. She is seriously ill, and her husband 
should be communicated with. If you will give 
me his address I will write to him ! " 

Sarah pressed her lips tightly together, 
mentally vowing that no power on earth should 
draw her secret from her. The old lady," she 
argued to herself, knew nothing, so the doctor 
could gather nothing from /^er, and as * Mrs. 
Rice, junior,' had not spoken a word, no informa- 
tion of any kind had come up to the present to 
Dr. Seymour's knowledge, and s/^e was not 
going to be the first to give it ! " 

He was to have gone to the Isle of Wight 
to-day, but I think when he left the house last 
night he had changed his plans," Sarah observed, 
after a visible pause. 

**At what time did he leave?" said the 
doctor, thinking this might give some clue to the 
distance he was likely to be travelling that 
night. 

I think it was getting on for nine when the 
cab went from the door," said old Sarah, and 
she turned very red and seemed agitated. 

Convinced that there was something more to 

N 



1 86 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

tell him if he could only get Sarah to trust him 
with her confidence, the doctor lingered for a 
few moments longer than he would have done, 
but the old servant was most obdurate, and he 
gave it up at last, never doubting that her 
silence was in some way associated with her 
loyalty to her master, and therefore suggesting 
that the withheld information was not alto- 
gether to his credit. 

His newspaper next morning put him in 
possession of more direct information than Sarah 
could have given, had she willed to do so. 
Under the heading, Painful Forgery Case," he 
read a full account of Aubrey Rice s supposed 
criminal action, the evidence against him being 
painfully conclusive. He was committed for 
trial — bail not being allowed. The newspaper, 
with a touch of the melodramatic, alluded to 
the prisoner having been taken up on his 
wedding day, and ventured the somewhat ill- 
timed remark that ''few could boast on such 
auspicious occasions, amongst other useful and 
ornamental gifts, being presented with a warrant 
of arrest." 

Dr. Seymour did not make the slightest 
allusion to the information he had gathered 
from his morning paper when visiting his 
patient later in the day. 

"As it is likely to be a somewhat serious 
illness, I am going to send a trained nurse in 



**AND IT WAS night" 



187 



to Mrs. Aubrey Rice," he said, on taking his 
departure. **You will arrange, please, that 
she has twelve hours off duty for every twelve 
hours on, comfortable meals, and the chance to 
get out daily. Talk your plans over with her, 
and she will I am sure do her best to meet you. 
It will be necessary for you to be within reach 
of the patient when nurse is not in the house." 
Then with a quiet Good day," the doctor 
had departed, wondering why it was so fre- 
quently deplored by those studying the question 
'*that servants of the old class, loyal to the 
family interests and quite capable of keeping a 
secret, were nowadays nowhere to be found " ? 

It was three weeks before Gertrude started 
to make any satisfactory progress in her illness, 
six before she was sufficiently convalescent to 
spare her nurse, by which time Aubrey 
Rice had pleaded ''Not guilty" to the charge 
of forgery preferred against him by the firm of 
Catchpool Brothers; but a special jury had de- 
cided otherwise, and a judge whose reputation 
was that of severity in dealing with criminals 
of the cultured classes had passed upon him a 
sentence which sent a shudder through the 
court, which for the most part was in sympathy 
with the aristocratic prisolier at the bar — 
Seven years' penal servitude." 

It would be impossible to give all the data of 
circumstances and events upon which the charge 



1 88 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

was built up without going into details con- 
cerning the business plans and operations of 
Catchpool Brothers which would be wearisome 
to follow and painful to analyse, inasmuch as 
seen from the point of view pressed by the 
counsel for the prosecution, they presented cruel 
finger-signs all moving in one direction, and 
that, the bringing home to Aubrey Rice the 
guilt of which he was accused. 

Mr. Everet- Arnold, the senior partner of the 
firm had given his evidence with ** grave 
reluctance, seeing the prisoner was the nominee 
of the late junior partner (a great personal 
friend of his own) for a position on the firm 
staff, after three years' training in a business 
altogether new to him ; but, to be honest, from 
the first he had had his doubts as to the 
genuine straightforward dealing of the prisoner, 
and upon his attention being directed to certain 
little matters connected with his total inaptitude 
for business, he had lost considerable confidence 
in him and quite naturally kept his eyes open " 
— and so forth. 

Mr. Joseph Buncer, buyer in the employment 
of the firm, had been called to prove the 
prisoner's strange conduct on a certain occasion 
in reference to a lost latch-key. It was evidently 
the prisoners intention to gather material^ 
should it be required for use on a future occa- 
sion, whereby to prove that on a certain date he 



AND IT WAS NIGHT " 



was actually at his own home, unable to enter 
in the ordinary way because of the absence 
from his pocket of a latch-key, whereas the pro- 
babilities, as suggested by the case before them, 
were that he was miles away (it being early 
closing day) getting the cheque cashed at the 
Firm's West-end bankers, just before their 
closing time." 

A cashier from the said bankers next gave 
evidence to the effect that Catchpool Brothers 
were in the habit of issuing cheques for more 
or less large sums, made payable to the Firm's 
order, it being well known that this was the 
Firm's method of paying salaries, the initial *'S" 
below the Firm's signature indicating for what 
purpose the cheque had been drawn. Two 
cheques of this description had been placed to 
the Firm's debit account between September the 
22nd and the 30th. In the rush of work at the 
counter it was impossible for the cashier to say 
by whom these cheques had been presented. 
• Nor would he swear that in each case it was the 
same individual, but as far as his memory 
would serve him it was, if not the prisoner 
himself, some one very much like him. He 
perfectly well remembered that on each occasion 
these cheques were presented just before closing 
time, a fact which called forth no special atten- 
tion, it being the usual custom to come at that 
hour. 



I go THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Cross-examined : No, it had not struck him 
in regard to the first cheque presented that it 
was the Firm's early closing day." 

Further cross-examined : " No, the sum of 
these *S' initialed cheques was never a uniform 
one ; it varied with the number of cheques 
issued from month to month." 

As one in a dream Aubrey had listened to 
his defamers, almost losing now and again all 
trace of his own identity. Again and again he 
was reminded of the coloured glass through 
which, as a school-boy, he had made everything 
appear to the sight of one hue. The witnesses 
on the side of the prosecution believed him 
guilty of the crime of which he was accused, 
and all the little nothings pertaining to his life 
and conduct were coloured with a distinctive 
criminal tint. 

When Stanley Pritchard entered the witness- 
box Aubrey Rice knew instinctively that 
whatever had gone before would be mild as 
compared with what had now to come in the 
evidence against him. Stanley had started by 
suggesting it was impossible in the interests of 
the Firm to remain silent, otherwise nothing in 
the world would have led him to give evidence 
against a man who had always been upon 
most friendly terms with him. 

Then had come with suitable hesitation, as it 
meant a personal confession, a description of 



**AND IT WAS night" I9I 

his visit to Mr. Rice last August bank holiday. 
''He had gone to ask the loan of ten pounds, 
being in a little need himself, and always 
regarding Mr. Rice as a young man of mone- 
tary standing. He had found him alone in the 
house with an invalid mother, who was confined 
to her bed. He had been asked up to the 
room which the prisoner called his' *den,' 
where he had evidently been busy writing at 
the moment of his arrival, for on returning to 
the room he had hastily closed a writing case 
upon the table against which his chair had 
stood. 

''In asking for the loan the prisoner had 
explained he was not well off, and was really 
in sore need of money himself, as he was 
anxious to get married the following year. 
But upon pressure the loan was granted, and 
an I O U was written for it. And it was while 
writing this that Mr. Rice — he should say the 
prisoner — had gone hurriedly into his mother's 
room, summoned thither by a knock on the 
wall. 

" During his temporary absence, the I O U 
made out, it was only natural to glance at the 
very pretty writing case— the one produced in 
court — which at the moment greatly took his 
(the witness') fancy. The watered silk which 
lined the wooden case he much admired, and 
thought it a pity that in closing the case over 



192 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

an open letter some traces of ink had been left 
upon this silk. It was when looking at these 
marks, with regret that anything so chaste 
should be impaired, that he noticed the forma- 
tion of the strokes (to be seen to-day), and, 
examining more closely, distinctly traced the 
broken and imperfect letters of the Firm's 
cheque signature. 

*' The discovery appalled him. He closed the 
case as if he had himself been a culprit, and was 
standing at the window when the prisoner 
returned. The secret overburdened him ; he 
kept it to himself, regretting now that he did 
not at the first apprise the senior partner of his 
discovery, and so save the mischief which 
followed, for quite six weeks had elapsed before 
the passing of the first cheque. The senior 
partner, when aware of what had taken place, in 
examining his pass-book made up to quarter- 
day, had held interviews in his private room 
with all in any important position in the business. 
It was not until then that, no longer able to 
keep his secret, he asked to see Mr. Everet- 
Arnold, and disclosed the facts which led to 
search being made in the book now before the 
court for the marks referred to, and ultimately 
to the apprehending of the prisoner." 

This closed the evidence for the prosecution. 

For the defence Aubrey had not lacked 
friends to speak for him. The insurance 



"AND IT WAS night" 



office in which he had worked for so many- 
years sent a representative to speak in the 
highest praise of his steadiness and scrupulous 
honesty while employed in their Firm. Lord 
Horrick had gone into the witness-box to testify 
to his uprightness in private life, and had hinted 
that his marriage with the daughter of a highly 
connected country rector was in itself a testi- 
monial. (Unfortunately the whisper went round 
the court that the prisoner had long ago been 
forbidden the house of his father-in-law, and 
the marriage had taken place from the house of 
a Brixton clergyman, information which did not 
tend to strengthen the prisoner's case, but rather 
the contrary.) Others also came forward, each 
one in his way anxious to say something kind 
of the prisoner, but all in some way explaining, 
either in the direct evidence or by cross- 
examination, that they had not seen much of 
the prisoner since he entered the Firm of Catch- 
pool Brothers. 

The judge's summing up was fair, considering 
his reputation for severity, but it laid great 
emphasis upon the fact rhat it was painfully 
evident that the prisoner's character had de- 
teriorated somewhat since entering the Firm 
of Catchpool Brothers ; the chief partner, to 
whose advantage it would have been to have 
cultivated more closely the future partner, 
acknowledged that time lessened rather than 



194 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

increased his confidence in the young man. It 
was for the jury to decide, lacking any evidence 
of appreciable worth as to the actual use made 
of the money come by in this assumably 
dishonourable way, whether there was still 
sufficient reason to acquit the prisoner on the 
charge of forgery? Unfortunately for the 
prisoner, experts in handwriting had all agreed 
that the letters, repeated as if in the effort to 
effect a perfection only made possible by prac- 
tice, and the prisoner s own handwriting, and 
the signature of the cheques had a similarity 
which could not be explained away, etc. 

The jury retired for thirty-five minutes, and 
on their return, amid breathless silence, the 
foreman said, *' We find the prisoner guilty of 
forgery, although failing to accept any con- 
clusion as to the motive which led to it." 

Then the sentence had been pronounced, and 
Aubrey was removed from the position he had 
occupied for three consecutive days as a criminal 
pro tern, to his seven years of darkness and 
shame in a felon's cell. And Gertrude had only 
the newspapers from which to glean details of 
this terrible trial, When sufficiently restored to 
be told what had taken place, Dr. Seymour 
himself broke the news to her. With great 
consideration for his patient's happiness, he had 
obtained an interview with the convicted man 
on his wife's behalf ; had explained the nature 



" AND IT WAS NIGHT " 



of her illness, and her progress towards recovery, 
assuring Aubrey Rice that he might be perfectly 
rested in knowing his wife intended to bear her 
sorrow bravely, and devote herself to his mother. 
Her intention was, so soon as strong enough, to 
seek a morning engagement as governess in the 
neighbourhood, thus to be earning something 
while free to devote a considerable portion of 
each day to Mrs. Rice. 

From Aubrey the doctor had brought a 
message of tender devotion. "It was for her 
he grieved most. The cruelty of the charge, 
the pain of those three days in court, the realisa- 
tion that he had been deprived of his liberty 
and had seven years of prison life to look 
forward to, were nothing compared with his 
grief for the sorrow brought upon herself. The 
more he thought about it all, the more sure he 
was there had been a foul conspiracy against 
him, and that some day it would be cleared up ; 
he went to prison to suffer the penalty of 
another's wrongdoing. It was not for him to 
say he knew who that other was. Of what 
avail would it be? A^i English judge and 
jury had found him guilty of a crime he had 
never committed. Before his supposed guilt 
could be cleared away another must confess to 
the crime. Henceforth his hope rested in 
another man's conscience being awakened." 

Gertrude wept softly as the doctor recounted 



196 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

the history of his interview with her husband — 
she was still physically weak — then, smiling 
through her tears, she had said, If I am not 
brave after hearing this, I shall not be doing my 
duty as his wife." 

And Dr. Seymour regretted at that moment 
that his bachelor home could not extend its 
hospitality to lady patients. He wished — 
perhaps not for the first time in his life — that 
he had a wife whose presence in the house, 
besides securing to him innumerable benefits 
and advantages, would help him to carry out 
many a plan which to-day must be labelled 
''lawful, but not expedient." 

It was Dr. Seymour who eventually secured 
Gertrude a position as lady companion, at an 
excellent salary. Her hours were from ten to 
six, Sundays excepted, and her duties were 
exceedingly light. 

*' Better than a nursery governess' place," he 
had said, warmly. "You will have a certain 
amount of comfort and care here which would 
have been impossible with the charge of 
children." 

But," Gertrude had replied, brightly, re- 
membering her dear little pupils at Brixton, I 
am happiest with children ; and some day I 
should like to get back to the schoolroom 
again." 

"If that is really your desire," said Dr. Sey- 



" AND IT WAS NIGHT " 



197 



mour, we will be on the look-out for a suitable 
post, and meanwhile I should advise you to 
write to Mrs. Brownlow for a testimonial, which 
you can have in readiness." 

" If it were not for my responsibilities here 
in looking after my husband's mother, I know 
what I would love to do." 

What is that ? " enquired Dr. Seymour. I 
like to feel you can still be enthusiastic." 

I would go and live within reach of 
Aubrey's prison ; it would be such a comfor 
to live near him and call myself Mrs., or, better 
still, Miss Huntly. My maiden name was 
Gertrude Huntly Hastings : it would only be 
like claiming to be known by my old name 
and not by my new." 

Well, it might happen some day, unless the 
guilty man makes short work of clearing his 
conscience and puts the law, which condemned 
your poor husband, in motion again to release 
him from prison." 

Oh, if only he would ! " said Gertrude, tear- 
fully. 

And the doctor took his leave, sure that 
whatever the future held in store by way of 
suffering to Aubrey Rice and his wife, the day 
would yet dawn in which the young husband s 
innocence would be declared. 

And when three months later Dr. Seymour 
died while visiting a patient, of heart disease. 



198 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Gertrude mourned his loss the more deeply 
because he never talked of the future without 
flooding- it with the light of hope. 

Meanwhile she had devoted herself to 
Aubrey's mother. With gentle and persistent 
effort she sought to be friends with the poor old 
lady so strangely absorbed in her own trouble. 
During all those long weeks of illness Mrs. 
Rice had never once entered Gertrude s room, 
although daily Sarah had tried to explain that 
Mr. Aubrey's wife was ill." 

But when Gertrude was able to get down- 
stairs, and, feeling very weakly, would rest in a 
high back chair, the old lady evinced sudden 
interest. She would come and sit beside her 
and stroke her cheeks and hands, and say 
softly, '* Poor wife," in most pathetic tones, 
often calling down the too-ready-to-flow tears 
of her daughter-in-law. 

When Gertrude at length took the situation 
as companion, old Mrs. Rice would watch for 
her home-coming from the little parlour window 
and run to the door to meet her. She had, it 
was soon evident, found a new interest in life, 
an interest which even led her to forget the 
trains which came and went as of yore, and 
devote herself to Gertrude. 

One day when Gertrude came home from 
her pupils she missed the familiar face at the 
window, and concluded the old lady had once 



"and it was night" 



199 



more returned to the meeting of Harold s train. 
But it was not so. She found her" crying softly 
in Aubrey's room. 

"Aubrey meets the trains now," she said, as 
Gertrude came up to her and enquired, cheer- 
fully, Dear Mrs. Rice, what may I do for 
you?" 

Be good to Aubrey and Harold when they 
come in," she said, *'and do thou tell them 
their poor old mother got so tired of waiting for 
the trains — so tired ; tell Aubrey his poor old 
mother was so glad to rest because /ie went to 
meet the trains." Over and over again the same 
thing ; still, pathetically sad as it was to hear, 
there was comfort in the thought that the gentle 
old lady had so well accounted for Aubrey's 
absence. 

All this time Gertrude slept in Aubrey's 
room and bed, to be at hand should she be 
wanted. And one night she distinctly heard 
the words, Aubrey, Aubrey! be sure to meet 
thy brother till he comes, and bring him home 
to me," and hastily passing into her mother-in- 
law's room she found her v soundly sleeping, a 
smile upon her lips. Twice in the next half- 
hour she moved, but each time smiling as if in 
happy dreamland. Then of a sudden — so 
sudden as to make Gertrude's heart beat — she 
started up in bed and, extending her arms 
upwards, exclaimed in a tone of triumph, 



200 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Harold s come ! Tell Aubrey, at last I see 
him. Oh, how fair he looks ! how sweet he 
smiles ! He is not an hour older. My boy, 
my precious boy, thou wast worth the waiting 
for. Oh, God be thanked for giving a poor 
lone widow the desires of her heart ! " And, 
so saying, she sank back into her pillows and 
once more slept. 

In vain Gertrude tried later to rouse her ; for 
food she had no appetite, for a return to the 
weary life of daily longing, no will. She 
craved but to be left alone to sleep. . . 
And so the end came, four months and a few 
days only after Aubrey's leaving home. . . . 
And, as if to add to the desolateness of her 
sad life, Gertrude, a few days before any change 
had come to Mrs. Rice's health, knew that she 
had gazed upon the kind face of Aunt Matilda 
for the last time. The Squire had written 
briefly to announce the fact — a sudden seizure 
while, with the assembled household, they were 
in the midst of family prayers, and his faithful 
and devoted wife had breathed her last. 

Amidst all this overwhelming strain, Gertrude 
determined to give up the little house which 
could never be a home to her without Aubrey. 
Once free from household cares and she could 
take a residential position as governess, and 
further, she could choose the neighbourhood in 
which to live. What was to hinder her settling 



" AND IT WAS NIGHT " 



20I 



down somewhere within sight and reach of 
Aubrey's prison ? 

Mrs. Brownlow had sent her an excellent 
testimonial. In due course all arrangements 
were made. The furniture was scarcely of a 
kind to store. If it were another seven years 
(less only the few months which had already 
passed) before Aubrey would be free to enjoy a 
home of his own again, the things, already in 
some cases moth-eaten, would be practically 
worthless. Hence Gertrude had determined to 
get rid of them. To old Sarah's charge (who, 
now free to plan her own life, had accepted an 
invitation to live with a widowed sister) she had 
consigned the care of two trunks, filled with 
small treasures which had been scattered about 
the house, in themselves valueless, but holding, 
doubtless, tender home memories which her 
husband might wish to preserve. 

It is only due to say here that Sarah had 
herself urged a sale, saying many times her 
young master had said, when speaking of his 
marriage as some way ahead, that before he 
made his house as he would wish it to be for 
his bride he would entirely refurnish, and 
Gertrude's plans had been formed accordingly, 
her own judgment seeing no wisdom in paying 
for storage, which was from all points unde- 
sirable. 

The sale had been a great disappointment to 
o 



202 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Gertrude. (When are sales other than disap- 
pointing?) Instead of having money to put 
away for Aubrey s use, some day, in the Post- 
office savings bank, to which she meant to 
add by her own earnings, she found that, after 
giving Sarah a gift of a few pounds, and 
paying a quarter's rent in advance in lieu of 
notice, and settling up the many little incidental 
expenditures which her own illness had in- 
volved, after laying out all her savings of the 
past three years, she had only enough left to 
give her the necessary equipment for the post of 
nursery governess which she had succeeded in 
obtaining on a month's probation in a garrison 
town in the neighbourhood of which was a 
convict prison. As she had planned to do 
in Dr. Seymour's lifetime, she had taken the 
engagement under the name of "Miss 
Huntly." Her charges were the two little sons 
of a solicitor (a widower), whose maiden sister 
lived with him, and who was, for more reasons 
than one, very careful whom she engaged 
for the position. Mrs. Brownlow's testimonial 
was just the kind she approved, hence " Miss 
Huntly 's " acceptance without any further 
enquiry. 



CHAPTER XVIII 



THE SQUIRE MAKES HIS WILL 

The senior partner of the firm of Grant & 
Son was seated in his country office busy with 
correspondence which would be handed over to 
his clerks to deal with, so as to get through with 
the signing not later than twelve-thirty, in time 
for him to catch the ten-to-one express to 
town. The order had been given that no stray 
client would be interviewed that day. The 
only appointment " had come and gone, and 
Mr. Grant had quite as much as he could accom- 
plish before he must leave for London, his son 
Hugh being too unwell to go to town that 
day. 

What is it, Drake ? " he asked his confiden- 
tial clerk as he entered the room with a look 
of apology upon his face. He had no papers 
in his hand, and his manner, hesitating to a 
degree, was of one who was conscious of acting 
contrary to his chiefs wishes. 

It's Mr. Butler- Edgcombe, sir. I told him 
you were specially engaged, and as he hadn't 
made an appointment — " 

What does he need to worry me about to- 
203 



204 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

day?" said the lawyer, evidently annoyed. I'm 
getting on as fast as I can with his work. Still, 
it would not do to offend him ; bring him up 
and wire to town ' Hold one-thirty appointment 
— coming next train.' " 

The man who greeted the Squire with a 
suave smile and brow without a ruffle was 
evidently well practised in the art of controlling 
his feelings. 

''How do, Squire ? Glad to see you ; a little 
pressed for time, but at your service," was the 
cordial greeting Mr. Butler- Edgcombe received. 

" I had no time to make an appointment/' 
said the Squire by way of apology, ''so pray 
excuse my coming along without one. I find 
Lord Walters means to fight me over this 
property question. He is good enough to tell 
me, in a letter this morning received, that I am 
an upstart and an adventurer, and that no 
court of law would acknowledge my claim to 
my late wife's estates ; he says further he has 
taken advice on the matter, and unless I will 
accept his terms of having five hundred a year 
settled on me for my life, and withdrawing all 
claim to anything beyond, he will see what a 
British judge and jury will say to it — with 
threats that I need not repeat. No, I have 
purposely left the letter at home. It is too 
personal, too vulgar in its coarse allusions to 
the ladies, my late wife and sister-in-law, to 



THE SQUIRE MAKES HIS WILL 205 



make me desire that it should be seen even 
by my lawyer. I came to you to ask you 
to take the matter up and see it through for 
me." 

Mr. Grant smiled — a smile which means to 
a client "judgment deferred." He would com- 
mit himself to nothing for the present. 

He had in a previous interview heard enough 
of the case to be quite sure that it was just one 
open for litigation, and he further knew that the 
present Squire, while well-informed and business- 
like up to a certain point, was strangely deficient 
in that special quality of ancestral dignity which 
goes far to vindicate a cause already two-thirds 
covered by justice. In a word, he was unusually 
dependent, hence there was more to be made 
under these circumstances than was at all sug- 
gested by ordinary ''legal fees." But this was 
a matter for discreet handling. 

I feel so particularly helpless," said the 
Squire. '* I fail to see that Lord Walters can 
under the circumstances make good any claim. 
Still, as you told me last time, he had a some- 
what analogous case to fall back upon to suggest 
the possibility of the law supporting him, where 
one taking much the position he does gained 
his day, you will remember. I see the im- 
portance of being prompt and definite, so I 
came to you with a proposition." 

" Which is ? " said the lawyer, visibly grow- 



206 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

ing more cordial, but still speaking with an 
evident effort to be guarded. In the previous 
interview he had broadly intimated that it 
was usual in a case of this sort to guarantee 
a certain sum down, over and above legiti- 
mate fees, should matters be brought to a 
successful issue, but the Squire had not 
appeared to take to the idea. 

" I propose," said the Squire, clearing his 
throat and speaking rapidly, that on the 
definite understanding that you secure to me 
the property intact I will make you my heir, 
less capital equal to ^500 per annum, which I 
would leave to relatives needing my help. I 
propose settling this ;^500 upon them forthwith, 
hence they would simply come into full posses- 
sion at my death of the capital to-day invested 
on their behalf, while there would be a mental 
reservation in the matter of certain legacies to 
philanthropic and religious objects of interest, 
say to the extent of ^20,000. Beyond this 
everything would be yours. You should be — I 
am right I think in the term ? — my residuary 
legatee." 

''Ton my word. Squire," said the lawyer, 
as if suddenly roused to see the value of the 
offer made, I think you are most generous, 
most considerate ! I shall be delighted to 
accept your terms with one proviso, namely, 
that if the successful issue of the pending trial 



THE SQUIRE MAKES HIS WILL 207 

brings this agreement into force, and if I die 
before you do, you will make my son your heir." 

" I see no objection," said the Squire, 
thoughtfully. " Draw up an agreement at 
this office, and I will hand the whole business 
over to you and go abroad for a few months ; 
it won't hurt me to travel, and I shall get out of 
the strain of it all. I am a man for peace and 
quiet, sir; I hate turmoil of any kind ! " and the 
Squire got up from his seat and walked to the 
window. He was more moved about the 
question than he cared should be seen by the 
man he was perforce making his friend. 

This put quite a new complexion upon the 
Squire's little business, and Mr Grant was in 
no hurry to keep the appointment with the 
client already awaiting him in his town office. 
He went very fully into detail, and there and 
then dictated, by the express desire of Mr. 
Butler- Edgcombe, a rough draft of a new will 
embodying the Squire's wishes about the 
disposal of his property after his death. 
Finally, when this was read over for approval, 
Mr. Butler- Edgcombe was evidently struck by 
a thought only at that moment presenting 
itself to his mind. 

I think there would be no harm in putting 
in a third name ; after all, it may only be a 
matter of form, but the idea commends itself to 
me. Supposing, in the event of your death and 



208 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

your son's before mine, Fd like to name my 
young friend, Mr. Aubrey Rice, as residuary 
legatee. He is, I am sure, a worthy young 
man, in spite of a cruel miscarriage of justice 
in that forgery trial — of course you read all 
about it at the time — last autumn ? Bless my 
life, it was an awful blow to my poor wife ; 
we had only been to his wedding a few days 
before it all came out in the Times. His poor 
young wife was, I daresay you will remember. 
Miss Gertrude Hastings — badly treated at 
home because she stuck to the man she loved 
in spite of his going into a business to which 
her father objected. Poor girl, she has had a 
hard time of it, I know; but she never doubts 
her husband's innocence — she put it pretty 
plainly in writing to my wife, and telling her all 
about it — and neither do I ; so just to prove my 
good feeling, if nothing else, we will have him 
down in my will. You understand — supposing 
you and your son to be dead, the property will 
go to him; and supposing, as I suppose I must 
in politeness say I hope may be the case, you 
are living when I die, he shall come into a 
thousand pounds just as a token of my good- 
will ? I feel sure you'll not object to this ? " 

At that moment there was but small likeli- 
hood of any exception being taken to the 
Squire's express wishes, so long as the main 
point was established, this being the lawyer's 



THE SQUIRE MAKES HIS WILL 20g 

absolute claim to the property as Mr. Butler- 
Edgcombe's direct heir. 

The conditions which secured this privilege 
did not trouble Mr. Grant. He felt sure, if he 
bent all his energies upon the case, it could be 
cleared and judgment given in his client's 
favour, more especially as during that morn- 
ing's conversation the Squire had chanced to 
refer to the fact of the relationship, although 
obviously obscure, which existed between his 
own family and that of his late wife. 

The clause concerning Aubrey Rice did not 
appear of any special moment to the lawyer. 
The fact that in connection with this, the 
Squire's fortune, he was only mentioned as a 
remote alternative was of certain importance, 
but not of undue significance. Mr. Grant, 
senior, was a young man for his years (which 
were scarcely over fifty), and his son was only 
three-and-twenty. 

When at length Mr. Butler- Edgcombe took 
his departure, the case, which in time became 
one of historic fame, had been practically 
handed over to the firm of Messrs. Grant & 
Son. The will would stand in place of agree- 
ment. Should the case be lost, the Squire 
would at once revoke the present testamentary 
document by making another. 

The trial took place in due course, lasting 
twenty-eight days, and it brought to light many 



2IO THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

interesting family skeletons from cupboards 
which had not been opened for years, and 
which would have remained closed to this day 
but for the vigilant effort of Messrs. Grant & 
Son to supply Mr. Butler-Edgcombe's counsel 
with materials which would reduce the Edg- 
combe family proper to the level of ordinary 
everyday humanity. 

Without devoting time to details which 
afforded great interest to the newspaper- 
reading public and great opportunities to the 
legal profession in a hundred and one ways 
best known to ''the bench," suffice it to say 
that Mr. Butler- Edgcombe won his case, and 
Messrs. Grant & Son congratulated themselves 
that the part they played in the winning was 
in no sense paid for by the handsome cheque 
received at the conclusion of the trial " for 
services rendered" — a certain document, duly 
attested, certifying that in the event of Mr. 
Butler-Edgcombe's death during the lifetime 
of Mr. Grant he was, with certain limitations, 
his sole heir and executor, or, failing his being 
alive at the time, the property would go to his 
son. 

The duly-announced intention of the defeated 
claimants to appeal to a higher court never 
came to anything, and Mr. Butler- Edgcombe 
was left to enjoy his property in peace. 

He had been so much engrossed with his 



THE SQUIRE MAKES HIS WILL 211 

own worries that, although not absenting 
himself abroad during the trial as originally 
intended, he had had thought for little else ; 
hence his intention to seek out Gertrude Rice, 
and tell her what he had done in putting her 
husband's name in his will in proof of his full 
confidence in the young man, had been post- 
poned from week to week, and neither by 
visit nor letter had the sorrowing wife been 
comforted by the good news. But with his 
own burden of care removed — for the recent 
trial had been a real trouble to the peaceful 
nature of the honest -minded Squire — his 
thoughts went off, not unnaturally, in the 
direction of others still suffering ; and Gertrude 
came in for a very special bestowal of 
sympathy. 

Poor young lady ; upon my honour, her 
misfortune puts all my recent worry and 
annoyance quite in the shade," he said, as he 
hunted up her last letter — so full of well- 
expressed sympathy — which had come to him 
the day after his dear Matildas death, and 
which he had duly acknowledged. I won't 
lose another day, but will go down and call 
upon her and explain everything." But an 
attack of lumbago brought the Squire to 
a sudden standstill, and it was quite another 
fortnight before he was free to carry out his 
intention. 



2 12 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

By this time it was May, six months after 
Gertrude s unhappy wedding day. As she had 
written full details of her plans, which she 
explained would be to remain in charge of 
Aubrey's invalid mother until the miserable 
mistake was found out and her husband restored 
to her, Mr. Butler- Edgcombe anticipated no 
difficulty in finding her. 

Neither would there have been had it chanced 
that his visit had been paid about a month 
earlier. To-day when he reached Aubrey 
Rice's old home it was to find a notice-board 
up — ''This desirable villa residence to let," 
with the intimation that " For further particu- 
lars, apply Messrs. Hardy & Bradfield, house 
agents." 



CHAPTER XIX 



NO. ^'75" 

Miss Huntly was retained after her month's 
probation as governess to Mr. Marshall's two 
little sons. Their aunt believed her to be a 
very suitable ''young person." She had nice 
ways ; indeed, was a very pleasant-mannered 
woman, and the children had taken to her 
immediately. 

*' She tells us beautiful stories, ever so long 
and no end jolly," said Albert, the elder boy, 
when speaking to a caller about his governess, 
whose name had been brought up by the lady 
of the house in chatting with her visitors. 
" Jack says she knows a lot, and I think she 
does, though she says she did not learn Latin 
at school and knew precious little Euclid." 

Like most motherless boys brought up by a 
maiden aunt, Albert was a little inclined to talk 
as if much older than his years. Sympathy for 
his loss and eager desire to make in measure 
good the deficiency had led to spoiling. 

'' I am almost afraid I should lack your 
confidence in placing such an amiable young 
lady under the same roof as a fine handsome 

213 



214 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

widower, my dear," another visitor ventured to 
remark one day when calling upon Miss 
Marshall. 

" Oh, there is no fear of anything on that 
score/' replied the lady, hastily. Miss Huntly 
has had a sorrowful experience in her life, I feel 
certain of that. There are times when she is 
greatly depressed. Sometimes I think she 
must have been jilted. Once I made sure of it 
from something she remarked. • But when I 
asked if she had proved the instability of man, 
as I have done to my cost" (Miss Marshall 
paused here and sighed ; every one knew her 
life-story, a hasty wooing and a bitter forsaking 
for a lady not fairer but more heavily weighted 
with golden guineas, so the tale ran) ; when I 
put this question to her she flushed up and said 
with an outburst of feeling, ' Oh no ! her fiancd 
had been true to her, but obstacles had come 
between them ; perhaps later these would be 
removed ; any way she would never marry any 
other man.' " 

''So I considered that settled," added Miss 
Marshall, ''and I congratulated myself that 
Miss Huntly would not worry me with any 
secret plans of being the boys' stepmother. If 
my brother should ever bring himself to the 
thought of marrying again, he can't do better 
than have his dear wife's cousin, Sophia Jane ! " 

This will show how it happened that Ger- 



NO. 75 



215 



trude found herself as time went on in Miss 
Marshall's good graces. No previous governess 
had been so secure from critical observation and 
treatment of a kind which would be intended to 
keep the young governess in her place. Ger- 
trude was felt to be a safe ''young person," and 
was allowed to make herself at home as no 
predecessor since the death of Mrs. Marshall 
had felt free to do. 

It was a sultry but sunless morning late in 
June. Gertrude had taken her young charges 
for iheir favourite walk, where they could watch 
the poor convicts at their work. The eyes of 
love never lost their eager straining in searching 
for a familiar face ; but in the two long months 
which had passed since she came to Portbeach 
not even once had she thought any form in 
convict garb resembled Aubrey. 

Perhaps, as a younger man and withal a 
gentleman, it was thought better to put him to 
some work in the prison, account-keeping or 
otherwise ? Poor girl, she was all at sea as to 
the restrictions of convicts, their mode of life, 
the duties permitted and those forbidden. 

She was watching two poor fellows at work 
to-day, wondering if, after all, it was an utter 
impossibility to effect an escape, when Jack, 
the younger of her two charges, came up to 
her in great excitement. One convict had 
struck another, and the poor fellow hit lay 
senseless on the ground. 



2l6 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

" Come, Miss Huntly," pleaded the boy, 
quick, and you will see for yourself how he 
is hurt. See that horrid warder actually poking 
him with the butt end of his gun. Oh, it's 
cruel, cruel ! " and the little lad's tears began 
to flow. 

Gertrude followed the excited child nearer to 
the spot. By this time a small crowd had 
gathered, and for a moment or two she did not 
get a view of the unconscious man. It was 
only when one of the soldierly warders lifted 
him from the spot where he lay and flung him 
over the shoulder of another warder, head 
downwards but face to view, that she could 
distinctly see his features ; then, with a muffled 
sob, she sprang forward. What cared she at 
the moment who saw her ? 

The crowd which broke in two to allow the 
man and his burden to pass admitted Gertrude. 
The blood was streaming down the livid brow 
of the unconscious man and mingled with his 
closely-cropped hair as Miss Huntly pressed 
near, her cheeks on fire, her eyes overflowing 
with tears. 

Let me wipe the blood away," she besought 
the man who followed behind. Indeed, I 
mean no harm, but, please, it's an awful wound." 

Don't fret, miss," said the warder addressed, 
turning towards Gertrude as she walked beside 
him and he followed the one who bore the 



NO. 75 " 



217 



weight of the injured man, he isn't much 
hurt. He'll be treated kindly enough; he 
hadn't ought to be put to this rough work. 
You can see by his hands he's not used to it." 

Gertrude's tearful eyes precluded her from 
seeing much of anything, for her gaze was 
fixed on no other than the face of her husband. 
Oh, if only his eyes would open, if only 
consciousness would return and he be put 
down upon his feet, just for one brief moment 
to realise that she was near him ! 

But what could that achieve without words to 
explain ? Gertrude never thought of it at the 
moment, but she saw it plainly enough after- 
wards and found actual comfort in realising 
that consciousness did noi( come back while she 
followed ; that Aubrey had not the pain of 
seeing her at a time when sign or word would 
be impossible. 

She turned faint and sick with the awfulness 
of the discovery made, and paused for a moment, 
and in that pause lost grbund which she did 
not attempt to regain later. She leant up 
against some railings near and put her hand 
over her eyes. 

She had seen him. Her keen eyes had 
taken in at a glance her husband, her Aubrey 
in convict dress. Well, having seen him once, 
why not again ? 

She had a very confused idea of what was to 
p 



2l8 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

follow their mutually seeing and recognising 
each other. But something would happen if 
such were the case. Aubrey was innocent, 
absolutely guiltless. No law was binding upon 
an innocent man. If it were possible for him 
to get his freedom, he had the right to do it. 
None could say he erred in breaking away from 
fetters which had no right to hold him. These 
were her thoughts whenever dwelling upon the 
painful subject of Aubrey's captivity. 

A dumb ache came into Gertrude's heart, and 
a cry to the God of justice and mercy to make 
a way of escape for her cruelly-suffering 
husband. 

Albert and Jack returned to her side breath- 
less with excitement. 

The poor man had recovered, and had 
managed to walk with support, and one of the 
warders called him Seventy-five," so that was 
his number. And as Gertrude tried to steady 
her brain and behave as she might have done 
had that morning's event not concerned the one 
of all others for whom her heart was hungering, 
she heard little Jack's voice behind her saying 
over and over to himself, " Number seventy- 
five, number seventy-five." 

And as if to harrow her feelings still more, 
although in another way it brought her com- 
fort, little Jack, when saying his prayers at 
her knee that night, said pathetically, " Please 



NO ^'75" 



219 



Lord Jesus bless Number 75, and if he's been 
wicked, forgive him and make him good. Per- 
haps he's not really done anything bad, but he's 
punished all the same, because people thought 
he has, like the man in Miss Huntly's story ; 
then please, //^^a;^^ Lord Jesus, send an angel to 
get him out of prison like you sent one to Peter. 
Let his wound heal soon, and say good-night to 
him and comfort him, for Jesus Christ's sake — 
Amen." 

After this episode, it was no wonder that the 
little boys were always on the look-out for 
Number 75. In vain Gertrude told them they 
might get the men into trouble if they were 
seen too near them. It was nothing to their 
young feet to climb over the rugged heaps 
which separated the convicts at work from the 
ordinary passers-by on the road above them. 
''We're only boys, Miss Huntly," said Albert, 
earnestly; "no one will notice us, and if only we 
could get near enough to say, ' Poor Number 
75, we're very sorry for you'; he ought to be 
glad, don't you think ? " 

Ah, how glad ! Gertrude thought, but she 
remained silent and the little boys accepted her 
silence to mean permission, and their vigilant 
search never flagged. 

But in the weeks which followed, although 
the daily walk when fine, with few exceptions, 
found Gertrude and her young charges some- 



2 20 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

where near to where the convicts worked, no 
happy chance brought them within reach of 
Number 75 ; and Httle Jack would regret the 
fact, and wonder if perhaps **he had died of his 
wound, or gone mad or something," often 
giving his governess a troubled heart, and 
robbing her nights of sleep, because to dwell 
upon the might he's " meant to wonder if 
Aubrey would live through those cruel years of 
punishment for another's crime. 

Of course, official communication would be 
sent should what she dreaded happen, but none 
knew excepting those situated as Gertrude was 
what the "carking care" may grow to be under 
circumstances akin to hers. 



CHAPTER XX 



SICK-ROOM CONFIDENCES 

Miss Huntly awoke one morning with a 
feverish cold. Miss Marshall was in dire con- 
cern because it chanced the day before that a 
caller, the mother of ten, had incidentally- 
mentioned that chicken-pox was very much 
about, and the school her little girl attended 
was closed in consequence. 

Without giving her governess a chance of 
declining the kind consideration, the mistress of 
the house sent without delay for the doctor. 
By the time he arrived Gertrude was feeling 
too unwell to mind what steps were likely to be 
taken to secure her isolation from the children. 
No decision could be arrived at as to the nature 
of her ailment for a few days so there was 
nothing but to wait. 

Meanwhile Miss Marshall started off to a 
relative living near to Basingstoke with her 
two nephews, getting her brother to migrate for 
the present to a private hotel near at hand. 
A fortnight's change would do her good and 
the little boys would enjoy a run in the hay 
fields. 



221 



222 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

All arrangements were made for Miss 
Huntly's comfort. Amy, the sewing maid, 
would bring up her meals and be her exclusive 
attendant, sleeping in an adjacent room, so that 
night and day Miss Huntly would have some 
one near to her. 

The Doctor said jocosely there was no help 
for it; after these elaborate preparations Miss 
Huntly would be clearly neglecting her duty if 
she did not now chance to develop the much- 
feared chicken-pox. Sure enough, in due course 
it turned out to be that unpleasant but seldom 
dangerous malady. 

Gertrude had it mildly, and only actually kept 
her bed for three days. Amy, the maid, was 
most thoughtful and kind. Indeed, as time 
went on, Gertrude became quite fond of her. 
She had hitherto thought of her as a very 
reserved young woman, whose quiet manners 
and hushed tones when speaking suggested a 
crushed spirit. Amy was never heard to laugh ; 
indeed, she seldom smiled, but she was an 
excellent servant and had come to Miss 
Marshall very highly recommended. 

As a sick nurse, for such she really became 
to Miss Huntly, Amy was quite a different 
creature. Her reserve gave way, and she 
chatted freely of her travels on the Continent 
with the lady whose sister had recommended 
her to her present situation, to whom she was 
evidently very much attached. 



SICK-ROOM CONFIDENCES 223 



" Why did you leave her ? " asked Gertrude, 
not unnaturally. 

She died," said Amy, bursting into tears. 

Well one day, and dead the next. I have 
never rallied from the shock ; but her sister was 
most kind to me. We had sent for her — my 
master was an aged man, an admiral — and she 
brought me to England and got me this situa- 
tion. I had a great desire to live in Portbeach, 
or near to it ; that's why I came." 

''Where is your home, Amy?" enquired 
Gertrude, really interested, although every one 
knows how ready an invalid is to talk, if only 
for the sake of passing time, which is so prone 
to drag in the sick-room. 

I have no home," was Amy's reply, but her 
cheeks grew very red, as if something lay 
behind the statement which she would fain 
conceal. 

And Gertrude said, her warm heart moved 
to sympathy, ''Poor darling!" and Amy, 
unused to tender words of late, bowed her 
head and wept. Then, as if on the impulse of 
some sudden thought, she drew a low seat near 
to Gertrude's couch and talked long and 
earnestly, but all the time in hushed tones as if 
what she had to say could only be spoken thus. 

Her tale was a sad one. I have no intention 
of giving it in detail here. There is enough 
sorrowful reading in this story to make it wise 



2 24 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



to keep from it all sadness which does not 
immediately concern it. Still, the wonderful 
development of plans as touching Gertrude's 
and Aubrey's near future belong so absolutely 
to this chance coincidence, the confidence 
established in this season of sickness between 
Miss Huntly, the governess, and Amy, the 
sewing maid, that links in my story would 
be lacking did I not tell enough to explain 
how events followed in natural order rather 
than came to pass in obscure and irregular 
happenings. 

The actual cause of Amy's trouble, which 
went back at least ten years, was unhappiness 
at home because of the advent there of a 
young stepmother. Wilful and wayward, the 
young girl, who had hitherto followed dress- 
making as a daily worker at a well-known 
drapery establishment, would not be won to 
patience and grateful acceptance of the newly- 
created relationship which had brought such 
evident comfort and joy into the life of her 
devoted father. As an only child Amy had 
doubtless been spoilt ; and seven years had 
elapsed between the death of her own mother 
and the advent into the home of the new wife. 

So Amy had left her father's roof. At two- 
and-twenty she had a right to be independent, 
and so forth, finding in London what she 
thought to be a suitable opening in a drapery 



SICK-ROOM CONFIDENCES 



225 



establishment in Bayswater. Her honest, 
steady-going father would have preferred her 
to have ''gone into service," feeling there 
was safety for the motherless girl if in the 
home of a mistress who took some interest 
in her maids (and are there not thousands 
such ? ), whereas in business " who knew 
what trials and temptations might not be in 
store for her ? The very independence craved 
for was in itself a forerunner of evil possibilities 
to one of Amy's temperament. 

But the girl had acted quite upon her own 
judgment and contrary to her father's. Of 
course I see it all now in looking back," she 
said, tearfully. " The first step was — for me — 
a wrong step, and it took me by the way of 
paths which needed very sure-footed treading 
not to step over some precipice or otherwise 
get into danger." 

Then, in the hush of twilight, the soft, 
summer air stealing through the wide-open 
window which faced westwards ; the garden 
beneath, with its restful colouring and fragrance 
which ascended as an evening sacrifice to 
heaven, filling the room in which they were 
with the strangely-soothing influence to nerves 
and senses. Amy told the most troubled part 
of her story, pressing her thin and delicately 
shaped hands to her burning cheeks as she 
spoke of wrong and disgrace and flight — 



226 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

anywhere to be beyond the knowledge or 
finding of her friends. 

Then came records of loss with loneliness 
and desolation, of hopeless depression, until 
one found her — her late mistress — working 
as sewing maid in a pension in Cannes, whither 
she had been taken by a young widow^ who 
was too glad to get a travelling maid to care 
much about any character beyond the one 
given by the register office, where she had 
gone with her needs. A most respectable 
young woman ; just the kind to suit you ; has 
been boarding here some time, and we know 
her to be a good needlewoman," etc., etc. 

Under the good influence of the lady who 
met with her at the pension, Amy had found 
hope again in life and living. She had aimed 
to rise on her dead self to higher things." 
Only that gentle mistress, of whom death so 
suddenly deprived her, knew her sad secret. 
The sister summoned to Cannes had been 
grateful to the maid who had showed such 
devotion to the one whom she came too late 
to see again in life. She had brought Amy 
home to England with her, and by her own 
desire found her a situation at Portbeach. 

Such was in brief Amy's story as told to 
Gertrude's sympathetic ears. 

But," said the listener, as the young girl 
paused, giving vent to feelings pent up and 



SICK-ROOM CONFIDENCES 



227 



all too ready to find a vent, what about 
your father ; surely he knows ? " 

No, poor father thinks of me, I hope, as 
dead. I came here to be near him — he has 
been moved to Portbeach, appointed to a 
position here — hoping for courage to seek him 
out, but it has never come. Oh, how could 
I spoil his life by burdening him with the 
secret of my disgrace ? " and Amy looked 
earnestly at the young lady to whom she had 
told her bitter tale of woe. 

But are you not sure of his love?" said 
Gertrude, a lump rising in her own throat 
(would, she thought, that she could be as sure 
of her father's). 

"Yes, he loved me then, but could he now?" 
whispered Amy ; but this time she did not look 
up ; the question seemed one long ago answered 
in her own mind. 

Love, true beautiful love, never alters," said 
Gertrude ; and she thought of Aubrey, and 
knew at that moment he was as much, yes, more 
to her than he had ever been in her life. 

But an interruption came before more could 
be said. The housemaid had arrived with re- 
freshment for the sick-room, and a bunch of 
roses for Miss Huntly, sent up by cook ''with 
her respects, hoping she would soon be able to 
be about again." 

It was strange that in less than forty-eight 



228 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

hours Gertrude and Amy had changed places. 
The sewing-maid was laid up with the malady; 
the governess asked the doctor's permission to 
attend to her. She was well enough she w^as 
sure, and glad to be of service to her gentle 
nurse. 

Permission was given, but later, some ten 
days, a trained nurse was brought in. Amy 
had no rallying power. The illness itself was 
without complication, but the poor girl's system 
was totally unequal to bear strain or shock of 
any description. 

Miss Marshall meanwhile had been home for 
a few hours, to make plans likely to conduce to 
the comfort of the two invalids. Of course her 
little nephews could not come home yet — the 
whitewashers and paperhangers must do their 
work before such a step would be advisable — 
and she herself was enjoying the freedom of 
visiting old friends ; so, having made arrange- 
ments up to date for the household. Miss 
Marshall went away again, and the faithful 
servant who occupied the position of cook- 
housekeeper was once more in full charge. 

Gertrude spent much of her time in the gar- 
den when the trained nurse was on duty. Oh, 
how often in the day her thoughts turned to 
that dark prison cell where Aubrey would be 
living out so many hours in solitary con- 
finement ! And then the rich blood would 



SICK-ROOM CONFIDENCES 



229 



suffuse her cheeks and brow as a feeHng of 
indignation and anger filled her heart by reason 
of the cruel injustice of all that had meant con- 
demning an innocent man and letting the guilty- 
go free. 

Surely, surely the God of love and mercy 
would bring the hidden things to light and 
clear her husband's dishonoured name ! But 
how soon ? Must he go through to the bitter 
end of those seven long years, one of which 
had not yet passed ? 

At such times Gertrude found comfort in 
being as near to her husband as her presence 
within a mile of his prison suggested ; she 
thought she breathed the same air, heard the 
same sounds of gun-firing or bugle-call, and at 
times military music, and rested beneath the 
same starlit sky. It was, after all, but poor 
consolation ; yet to have been without it would 
have seemed to change the twilight to the 
darkest night of her sorrowful experiences. 

One day Dr. Meredith, who had been most 
attentive through Gertrude's illness, making 
her feel him to be not only her medical atten- 
dant but her friend, sought Miss Huntly out in 
the garden after paying his usual daily visit 
to Amy. 

I am afraid the poor girl is very seriously 
ill," he said, alluding to his patient upstairs. I 
am going to call in another opinion and supply 



230 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

a second nurse; I must not let you be overdone. 
Grave symptoms have set in, and unless these 
quickly abate my patient cannot rally." 

The news was a great shock to Gertrude. 
Instinctively she thought that the poor girl so 
seriously ill, with none of her friends about her, 
must be sadly burdened in mind by the secret 
which stood between her and seeking out her 
father. 

When an hour later she took the nurse's 
place in the sick-room — probably her last 
opportunity of being alone with Amy, as with 
a second nurse her presence would be un- 
needed — she lost no time in urging her, ^*as 
she remained so ill," to send for her father. 

I dare not. Miss Huntly," said Amy in 
feeble tones, her lips visibly trembling. I 
am not strong enough to tell him all, and 
how could I see him without explaining ? " 

Let me go to him and tell him what you 
have told me," said Gertrude, impulsively. I 
would be very careful in what I said, and I 
could assure him of your penitence, your re- 
morse, your longing for his forgiveness. He 
would come at once to see you, and your heart 
would be made glad. Oh, Amy, it is worth 
the effort, dear! A few hours and your poor 
troubled mind might be at rest, and your hope 
of recovery would be so much greater if it 
were so ! " 



SICK-ROOM CONFIDENCES 23 I 

Amy was weeping silently ; her voice failed 
her, though her lips moved. At length the 
words came — Go and tell him all ; he is chief 
warder at the prison." 

Gertrude's heart bounded. Her whole being 
quivered with excitement. Was she actually 
empowered to find her way up to that gate, 
and within it, charged with a message from a 
dying daughter to one of the officials ? Refused 
admittance would be impossible, and then once 
there she would be at least within sight of her 
husband's cell, almost within sound of his voice 
perhaps. (She had a very confused idea of 
what existed behind the gate.) The thought 
unnerved her. She felt sick and giddy for a 
moment ; but rising from her chair as the nurse 
returned to her patient, she leant over Amy and 
whispered, I will go this afternoon, dear. It 
is sure to be all right, and your dear father will 
be bound to come and see you." 

Amy flashed upon her a look of gratitude, 
which revealed how deep had been the longing 
for the father whose anger she so greatly feared. 
Might not her troubled conscience be more or 
less responsible for the weakened state in which 
she lay to-day — that state around which the 
doctor gathered gravest fears ? 



CHAPTER XXI 



A STORY TOLD TO SYMPATHETIC EARS 

But Gertrude did not venture after all to the 
convict prison. Chancing on her way there to 
meet the good doctor who had shown such 
fatherly interest in his young patient, in answer 
to his question, Where are you hurrying off 
to. Miss Huntly ? May I give you a lift in my 
carriage ? See, it is over there in the shade," 
she had explained briefly her mission. Amy 
had relatives holding office in the prison. 
They did not know of her nearness to them ; 
she had grave matters to talk over with them." 

Then, my dear young lady," said the doctor, 
hastily, "be advised by me and have the inter- 
view at your own house. On every ground it 
would be better. You will have a better chance 
of a calm hearing out of sight and sound of 
prison life and discipline, and the very atmos- 
phere of pure officialism. Write for an appoint- 
ment ; say it is urgent — must be held within a 
few hours — life is in the balance. Bring the 
one most concerned within the touch of home 
life. If your interview is to partake of the 

232 



A STORY TOLD TO SYMPATHETIC EARS 233 

nature of an appeal, gather about yourself 
circumstances most favourable to the making." 

I will take your advice," said Gertrude, at 
once convinced of the doctor's wisdom, and she 
hastened home again and wrote her letter. It 
was addressed to The Chief Warder," and 
• contained only a few brief sentences. 

"By the doctor's request I am writing to 
ask you to lose no time in coming to see your 
daughter. She occupies the position of sewing- 
maid in a family where I am nursery governess. 
She is very ill — dying, it is feared ; but an 
interview with yourself, if one of loving 
tenderness, might conduce to her recovery. 
At present she and I are in the house alone 
with the servants. Any hour you name will 
suit, but let it be (in the interests of Amy) with 
as little delay as possible. — Faithfully yours, 
''Gertrude H. Huntly. 

'' 6'.— Please ask for me when calling." 

Having posted the letter, Gertrude waited 
with feverish anxiety the issue of the venture. 
Amy had to be told the changed plan of 
approaching her father. "It seemed best to 
make an appointment " was all the explanation 
Gertrude gave, sparing the poor girl the added 
excitement of expecting the interview to be at 
the house. 

When about noon the following day Amy 
said, wistfully, " I think you could get an answer 

Q 



234 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

to your letter by the three o'clock post to-day, 
and then you could go at once, couldn't you ? " 
Gertrude promised to wait in that no time 
might be lost in getting the letter ; but she said 
no more. She was in the dining-room alone, 
having her lunch a little before two o'clock — 
the kind and sympathetic housekeeper putting 
her there rather than in the schoolroom, as the 
coolest room in the house — when a card was 
brought to her, upon which was written simply, 
" By appointment." 

''Where have you shown him?" Gertrude 
asked, wondering if to say "the gentleman" or 
the person." 

"In the library, miss." 

"Thank you, I will go to him there," she 
said, rising at once and leaving the room. 

Gertrude had pictured the chief warder to be 
a man of stern exterior, manner, and deport- 
ment, touched by the severe discipline of prison 
life. She was both puzzled and astonished to 
find him quite the contrary. He was only of 
medium height, whereas Amy was unusually 
tall for a woman ; dark in his colouring — his 
daughter being fair — bright and genial in both 
manner and tone. 

At once she felt at home with him. If not a 
man of culture and good social standing, he 
was one of Nature's gentlemen. What greatly 
struck her at the time, and even more in 



A STORY TOLD TO SYMPATHETIC EARS 235 



subsequent interviews, was a certain combina- 
tion of strength and tenderness. He could be 
strong, even to stern, uncompromising stoicism ; 
touch but another spring in his nature and he 
was tender even to tears; while all the time he 
gave the impression of being a very just man, 
one intolerant of severe treatment, if undeserved. 

Gertrude got through her explanation about 
Amy's sad history far better than she had 
anticipated. Every word she uttered was 
listened to with gentle, courteous attention. 
The kindly face which turned towards her 
with eager questioning made the telling of the 
story easy, simply because of the sympathy 
displayed. 

"Take me to her!" he exclaimed, as Gertrude 
paused, having explained how gravely the 
doctors thought of her condition. ''My poor 
darling ! what she must have suffered ! " 
Then he added, pathetically, '' Strange that 
all this should happen at this time when I am 
seriously contemplating resigning my present 
post to go abroad ! Amy has been so long 
as one dead to us, and yet but for her I should 
years ago have settled in America, where I 
have relatives who urge me to go to them." 

We draw the curtain over the meeting of 
father and daughter. Gertrude prepared Amy 
for the interview, then she and the nurse with- 
drew — within call if wanted. Half an hour 



236 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

later and the chief warder came to them as 
they sat by an open window on a landing near, 
a glow of happiness upon his expressive face. 

If not intruding, I will call again to-morrow 
at this hour," he said. 

And each day for a week he came, using his 
dinner hour in this way, rejoicing to see his 
child improving in health ; conscious that his 
visits were doing much to promote her ultimate 
recovery. The first day when Amy was per- 
mitted to be carried into the garden chanced to 
be a Sunday afternoon, when the chief warder 
was off duty for the rest of the day. The 
housekeeper had begged Amy to keep her 
father to tea, hence his visit was prolonged, 
and when she grew tired and asked to be taken 
back to her room, having helped her there, he 
returned to the garden to take leave of Miss 
Huntly. 

Then came the opportunity Gertrude had 
waited for so long. She spoke to him of the 
prison, of its inmates ; painted a scene to him 
in vivid colours of a young girl she knew who, 
on her wedding day, was rudely severed from 
her husband, falsely accused of crime. She 
gave a pathetic description of an invalid mother, 
of the devoted life of this son ; his noble 
character, brave and fearless when duty was 
concerned, gentle and tender as a daughter 
might have been in his care of his afflicted 



A STORY TOLD TO SYMPATHETIC EARS 237 

mother. In her house, almost in her presence, 
he was dragged off to prison and to his trial. 
She described the trial, the evidence of the 
chief witness, the writing-case with the strange 
strokes, as if a hand were practising to copy a 
signature ; of the missing latch-key, and of the 
senior partner's prejudice against the young 
man. She hinted that the whole thing was a 
well-arranged plot on the part of one evidently 
needing money, whereas the one condemned 
had, it was admitted, no need. No motive was 
forthcoming for the crime of which he was 
accused. All this Gertrude portrayed with 
spirit and energy ; then came a pause and a 
sudden breaking forth into weeping, and the 
chief warder knew without the telling that she 
was painting a history with which her own 
experience was strangely interwoven. 

In a fervour of wrath and indignation against 
the miscarriage of justice at the trial which 
should have cleared the innocent and given 
judgment against one (though it might be at 
the time some one unknown) to whom the 
evidence clearly pointed, he exclaimed, raising 
his hands in an impressive manner, " This beats 
all the painful stories I have ever heard. That 
poor suffering fellow deserves for the unexpected 
to happen ! " 

You mean," said Gertrude, turning her 
tear-stained face towards him, her mind sud- 



238 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

denly grasping a new thought, "you mean, if 
such an one could escape from prison, such a 
thing would be quite right, quite justifiable ? 

Best not to say what I mean, young lady," 
replied the chief warder, "more than this, 
that if it ever came within my power to help an 
innocent man like the one you tell me of to get 
free from the position which will be making 
havoc with body and mind, I don't say I should 
not feel my duty to my Queen and country 
would stand first with me, and my obedience to 
prison rules second. But tell me, what might 
be your connection with the young gentleman ; 
I presume you are his — sister ? " 

Gertrude shook her head, as she buried her 
hot cheeks in her hands. Then, glancing up 
pathetically into the chief warder's face, she 
said, I am his wife, and that is why I am here, 
to be at least somewhere near him. Would 
I could share his imprisonment with him ! " 

Tears started in the honest eyes of the chief 
warder. We must remember he had been 
already touched by more than common grati- 
tude in realising that " Miss Huntly " had been 
the direct means of restoring his long-lost Amy 
to him. Naturally enough, the pathetic story 
he had listened to was doubly affecting when 
realising that the one who told it was actually 
the poor young wife from whom an innocent 
husband was torn on the very day of their 
marriage. 



A STORY TOLD TO SYMPATHETIC EARS 239 

''What is his number?" he said, in a voice 
scarcely above a whisper. 

And Gertrude repHed quickly, '' Seventy- 
five." 

" Then be assured," he continued, as he 
extended his hand to her, grasping hers in the 
warm hand-pressure of sympathy, "from this 
moment I shall take a very special interest in 
' Number 75. '" 

And then he talked of Amy, how soon she 
would be ready to come home, how her step- 
mother longed to see her — at best she might 
only stay there on a visit, but the scheme of 
going abroad could now hasten forward ; then 
he took his leave, and Gertrude felt, she knew 
not why or wherefore, she did not dare to 
dwell upon reasons, he had left her in possession 
of a new and weighty treasure, even the treasure 
of hope. 

A few days later and, by the doctor s per- 
mission, Amy was allowed to accompany her 
father to his "quarters" within the prison walls. 
She had pleaded so earnestly to go ; it meant 
"home" to her whatever the surroundings. In 
a little while she would return to her life as a 
" sewing-maid " ; but now, to-day, she craved 
to be with her father. 

And now it was time for Gertrude to form 
some holiday plans. Miss Marshall had asked 
her to remain until a certain date when she 



240 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

would return to see to the house being 
straightened before her brother and nephews 
came back. This gave Gertrude a Sunday by 
herself. On the Friday previous she received 
a letter from the chief warder ; it was brief and 
to the point. 

" Dear Miss Huntly, — Amy tells me you 
can play the church organ. Our organist will 
be away on Sunday ; would you like to take 
her place ? I want to test your pluck. Be 
prepared for a great strain and refuse to come 
if you feel it might be too much for you. 
Should you decide to take the service, be at the 
prison gate at nine and wait to be admitted. 
You will be expected ; the door will be opened 
without your needing to give notice you are 
there. You will be taken up to the organ loft ; 
the service over, you will leave as you came, 
without a word to any one. Send a line by 
return. Amy sends her love. — Yours faithfully, 

" Chief Warder. 

''P.S. — Our usual organist is a connection of 
my wife's, so I can manage this little business 
nicely." 

Dare she accept ? Would her courage hold 
out if, once within the prison chapel, she realised 
that Aubrey himself was there, actually within 
a measurable distance ? Then her timidity gave 
way to courage. Of course she dare go through 
with this, and that which might mean a hundred 



A STORY TOLD TO SYMPATHETIC EARS 24 1 

times more nerve, more effort, for was there not 
hushed up somewhere within the very act itself, 
hope of a might-be beyond ? If equal to one 
great strain, might she not be to another ? And 
if the unexpected were to happen, would it not 
be on the line of some special effort on her 
part ? 

With feverish haste Gertrude wrote and said 
how pleased she would be to preside at the 
organ the following Sunday. She presumed it 
would be the usual Church of England service 
with which she was quite familiar. 



CHAPTER XXII 



A SUNDAY SERVICE IN THE CONVICT PRISON 

The night before the morning which was to 
give Gertrude the right to enter the prison 
for a brief hour (where her husband was 
serving out his seven years' sentence for 
forgery — alas ! for the cruel wrong to an 
innocent man) found her very sleepless. She 
rose at early dawn and went towards the 
window. 

The little birds were softly twittering, 
holding experience meetings in the leafy 
branches of some well-grown trees as birds 
are wont to do in July. Their thanksgiving 
anthem of early spring-tide had been sung, 
the wooing days — in which some eager swain 
sang loud and clear his best to win his mate 
— had long since passed, making way for 
anxieties known only to fond parents who 
have to search for worm and fly wherewith 
to supply the tender needs of the fledgling. 
And now in the soft and balmy days of July 
there came a hush to these garden voices, 
but all the same they were sweet and com- 
panionable to Gertrude, who had felt strange 

242 



A SUNDAY SERVICE IN THE CONVICT PRISON 243 



loneliness since Amy had gone to her father's 
home. 

Gertrude's musings always gravitated towards 
her imprisoned husband. But to-day they 
seemed to be outlined, to be definite enough, 
to take less hazy form. To-day life seemed no 
longer a mute endurance of a secret sorrow but 
peculiarly awake, vivid, and weighty with 
anticipations to which imagination gave rein ; 
strong with new feelings, new sensations, it was 
life trembling and tingling with — hope. 

And this very hope made her impatient for 
activity. The moments just then seemed as 
hours. How could she wait and retain the 
calm exterior which she always wore before 
others ? Since Amy left there was no one 
with whom to share her thoughts, none to 
minister sympathy, excepting the birds and the 
flowers ; but until now the pressure had never 
been so great of the secret her tired heart had 
carried all these months. 

Gertrude had opened her window wide and 
had seated herself upon a low ottoman, her 
flannel dressing-gown draping her lightly-clad 
figure. It was when feeling how long the time 
to wait before finding her way to the prison 
that, getting still nearer to the window, she 
stretched out her arms as if in mute appeal to 
heaven. Again and again her lips moved as 
if in silent prayer. The hidden forces of her 



244 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

nature were stirred. Within a few hours she 
would be near the one who was never out of 
her thoughts. She would, on her organ stool, 
if her trembling hands found nerve to touch the 
notes, lead his voice in the Te Deum. Together 
they would say the Lord's Prayer. What 
matter a thousand other voices ; it would be to 
her just her own and Aubrey's which would 
repeat the " Our Father." 

And thus musing and praying — her prayer 
taking one unutterable longing, and laying it 
down speechless before a God of justice and 
mercy — even the anguished plea, " Release an 
innocent man from undeserved punishment" — 
time dragged itself along until 

The distant hum of moving multitudes astir, 
And all that in a city murmur swells, 

changed early dawn into the day begun, and 
Gertrude knew the world was peopled by others 
than herself and the little birds which had 
shared her solitude in the hours now passed. 

She dressed herself with the utmost care. 
Her breakfast was eaten with real appetite. 
Excitement made her eager even in the taking 
of food. Then the deep-toned clock of the 
parish church struck eight, and Gertrude 
knew that she must start on that absorbingly 
interesting journey which seemed to her the 
forerunner of blissful possibilities. 



A SUNDAY SERVICE IN THE CONVICT PRISON 245 



Amy's father had broadly hinted in a letter 
which came after she had written to say she 
would preside at the organ, ''Get Sunday well 
over, and who knew what might be laid in store 
beyond ? " — mysterious allusions which had but 
one interpretation in Gertrude's mind. It was 
a hope, however remote and dim, which shed a 
ray of light upon Aubrey's escape. That the 
warder would help in some way to bring this 
about Gertrude had never doubted from the 
hour when she had poured her weird story into 
sympathetic ears, and heard the exclamation, 
'' This beats all the painful stories I have ever 
heard. That poor suffering fellow deserves for 
the unexpected to happen ! " 

The hour appointed for Gertrude to be at 
the prison gate was nine o'clock. She was 
there punctual to the moment. As she stood 
trembling with excitement and anticipation, 
she heard the clanging of keys and the jangle 
of a heavy door; then the portly form of the 
janitor appeared. He was one with a more 
genial face than she had expected to belong 
to the keeper of the prison gate. He beckoned 
mutely to her. The great door opened and 
the great door closed, and she found herself 
in a dim, deep-mouthed, vaulted stone passage, 
with a great iron gate still between her and 
the courtyard of the prison. 

The court looked pleasant, even homely, 



246 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

with its green grass plots and parterres, 
with the length of the prison chapel for its 
background. She peered through the 
bars, watching with nervous, terribly-strained 
feelings the movements of a few warders 
in blue and brass, with whistles slung round 
them. Amy's father was not one of these. 
Then there was a sound as of the tramp of 
feet, and, turning in the direction from whence 
it came, she saw a regiment of prisoners 
marching through a long corridor open to 
the air, but cut off securely from the court 
by a formidable grille. A clang of bells, a 
jangle of keys, a creaking of iron gates, and 
she followed a warder, who led her up a 
stone staircase, mounting many steps, passing 
through a doorway at the top into the organ 
gallery of the prison chapel. 

Then for a moment the chief warder came 
forward to meet her. No words passed between 
them. He led her in silence to the organ and 
left her. His look had been kindly, sym- 
pathetic, with something like a father's anxiety, 
suggesting the question " Will this be too much 
for you?" that was all. Gertrude's heart was 
beating, but she walked erect, and as words 
were uncalled for, there was no need to test the 
steadiness, or otherwise, of her voice. 

She took her place at the organ and awaited 
the signal to start. Meanwhile the steady 



A SUNDAY SERVICE IN THE CONVICT PRISON 247 



tramp of prisoners filing into their seats fell 
upon her ear with strange, pathetic sound ; 
somewhere among those thousand or more men 
was Aubrey, her innocent and beloved Aubrey. 
Would he feel, by some strange instinct such 
as we hear and read of when some are warned 
of approaching calamity or unexpected joy, 
" they were sure something was about to 
happen " — would he feel her nearness, and 
would it be too much for him ? The thought 
was agony. But no ; Aubrey, the Aubrey she 
knew and remembered, had strong nerves. 
Nothing would move him to betray his feelings. 
How quietly he had submitted to be taken in 
charge on that dreadful day not yet nine 
months ago! How nobly he had stood and 
faced the constables ! 

The chaplain came in in the familiar robe of 
the clergy, the governor rose from his seat and 
the congregation to their feet and the hymn 
started. For a moment Gertrude's trembling 
fingers had wandered over the keys without 
producing a sound. It was a pause not likely 
to be noticed by the officials and far less by the 
poor prisoners themselves, but the fact meant 
much to her ; it roused her, and the hymn 
was started with vigour, and throughout the 
organist did her part. The words sung had 
new and strange meanings to Gertrude from 
that day. She was so conscious all the while 



248 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

that Aubrey's voice would be amongst the 
singers, and to him the hymn, apart from the 
home memories and associations, would be an 
intelligent rendering of praise. But to how 
many would the verses seem as out of all 
harmony with their surroundings and inmost 
thoughts. 

The hymn which opened that weird service 
was, " Before Jehovah's awful throne." Pa- 
thetically sad it sounded as sung by criminals, 
for the most part men who in losing a good 
name had lost hope and ambition, whose very 
tones were metallic, lacking the sweet vibrations 
of love. Surely the grand old hymn had found 
its way into the prison hymn-book to awaken 
home memories and inspire beneficent thoughts 
of a future which lay beyond the prison walls 
for those who to-day had their place in the 
lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps ! " 

After the first verse Gertrude forgot all else 
but that she was helping Aubrey to sing a 
hymn of which he had once spoken to her as 
one of his favourites. This was in one of those 
happy Sundays spent with her in the Vicarage 
home of her adoption. What would his 
thoughts be to-day as he sang out the words? — 

His sovereign power without our aid 
Made us of clay and formed us men ; 
And when like wandering sheep we strayed. 
He brougl;it us to His fold again. 



A SUNDAY SERVICE IN THE CONVICT PRISON 249 



We are His people, we His care, 
Our souls and all our mortal frame ; 
What lasting honours shall we rear 
Almighty Maker to Thy name? 

Wide as the world is Thy command. 
Vast as eternity Thy love, 
Firm as a rock Thy truth must stand 
When rolling years must cease to move. 

It was during the reading of the lessons — the 
service throughout was that of the Church of 
England, the same as was being said and sung 
in thousands of churches that day in the British 
Empire — that Gertrude found her chance to 
look around her. The chapel v/as light and 
cheerful. God's sunshine was !^streaming in 
through the half-open windows; God's air smelt 
pure and sweet, but even as she thought so, 
Gertrude was conscious of other fumes, faint 
and suggestive of the sea. Then it dawned 
upon her mind that these would be the prison- 
tainted fumes of oakum, otherwise of old ships* 
ropes. '^'Hi^ 

She could only see the backs of the convicts 
in their brownish-yellow suits branded with the 
broad-arrow, row after row extending across 
the width and the length of the chapel ; the 
warders were seated on upraised seats, high 
above their charges to right and left, to watch 
and control their slightest movement. 

Never until that moment had Gertrude quite 

R 



250 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



realised what the loss of personal freedom 
involved. Never had her heart felt such an 
aching pity for Aubrey. To think of him 
there, his head one of the thousand or more 
heads before her. Had she dwelt upon the fact 
she would have lost nerve. As it was, a feeling 
of faintness crept for the moment over her, but 
she battled against it and schooled herself to go 
through with the task she had undertaken. 

In this, quite unknown to herself, she was 
helped by the wonderful discipline and order 
which prevailed in the body of the chapel. 
''Eyes front" is prison rule, and never could 
she detect a movement in the mass of heads 
below which could suggest to her mind other 
than strictest obedience to that law. 

At length the service closed. Gertrude could 
never remember more than the text of the 
sermon. At the moment it struck her as being 
well chosen — If thou be wise, thou shalt be 
wise for thyself." The last hymn sung was 
over, and the governor walked down the chapel 
in solemn dignity, followed by some officials ; 
then came the convicts, row after row, marching 
quietly out in obedience to the eye or finger of 
a warder. 

This would have been Gertrude s opportunity 
of glancing down upon the moving figures below 
on the bare chance that Aubrey might look up, 
but for his own sake and hers she dare not 



A SUNDAY SERVICE IN THE CONVICT PRISON 25 I 

hazard recognition there. So far all had gone 
well. Why not to the end ? She had forgotten 
to ask if it were usual for the organist to play- 
while the prisoners were passing out, but, on 
the impulse of the moment, she started Batiste's 
Andante, It was the last thing she had ever 
played upon the organ to Aubrey. It held 
precious memories. As her fingers glided over 
the keys in sympathetic runs, her left hand 
taking the melody in clear, pleading tones, 
there was a sudden pause in the line of men 
filing out. One had stayed as if arrested, 
throwing those who followed out of step. It 
was only a momentary pause, but one noted by 
the chief warder, who retained his seat until the 
chapel was clear. 

The one to create this sudden halt was 
Number 75. 



CHAPTER XXIII 



HOW THE UNEXPECTED " HAPPENED 

Gertrude Hastings had arranged to spend 
four or five weeks at a private boarding house 
in the neighbourhood. It was difficult to 
explain to Miss Marshall (who returned home 
the Monday after the events related in the last 
chapter to superintend whitewashers and paper- 
hangers and prepare the house for the coming 
back of her little nephews) that to go quite 
away just now would be too severe a trial to 
face unnecessarily. Had she gone further 
afield for her holiday it could only have been 
to take up her residence in a similar retreat. 
With the door at home closed against her, and 
Aunt Matilda" gone from Edgcombe Manor, 
and her good friends Mr. and Mrs. Brownlow 
abroad, Gertrude had nowhere to go. She 
was completely, in this respect, homeless and 
friendless. 

" I shall not be far away," she had said with 
heightened colour as Miss Marshall inquired 
what her holiday plans were likely to be, 
certainly for the next few days. I have 
arranged to go to the Fair View Boarding 

252 



HOW "THE unexpected" HAPPENED 253 

House to await the issue of plans which are 
still uncertain." 

"You will be very comfortable there," Miss 
Marshall had replied, heartily. *' I know the 
people well ; they are eminently respectable, 
indeed, quite superior ! " She remembered 
Mrs. Brownlow s hint when testifying to Miss 
Gertrude Huntly s abilities and suitability for 
the position of governess to young children — 
" She had unfortunately been cut off from her 
friends by the most unjust action of a severe 
and uncompromising father ; it would be kind 
never to refer to the fact but to accept this ex- 
planation of Miss Huntjy's apparent isolation." 
Miss Marshall had acted upon the advice given, 
and when the boarding house plan was spoken 
of, accepted the statement without comment or 
surprise. 

So Gertrude and her luggage removed to 
Fair View on the Tuesday following the 
Sunday when she had presided at the organ. 
She had taken care to let Amy know her plans 
and present address, hence a letter which 
reached her late on Thursday night had lost 
no time in coming. 

Amy's handwriting was well formed and 
easy to read, but to-day her sentences were 
not well put together, giving Gertrude the 
impression that either she was pressed for time, 
or had been suddenly betrayed into great 



2 54 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

nervousness. Still, there was quite enough in 
the latter's news to explain that she must have 
been labouring under feelings of great excite- 
ment when she wrote it. 

" What will you say when I tell you we're 
going to live abroad ? It's all decided, and no 
time has to be lost. We'll be leaving directly. 
I want so much to see you. Father says if you 
didn't mind we could spend a day or two at a 
farm house some few miles from this place. 
He'll anyway make the arrangements in case 
you incline — and you had better ; I can't quite 
tell you how important it is for you to come. 
Please don't let anything interfere. Father 
says if you'll come the same way you did on 
Sunday — Oh ! I forgot ; he told me to tell 
you he admired your courage and pluck. You'll 
find us on the move about nine o'clock. We 
shall be catching the 9.35 train. Bring a hand- 
bag with you, just enough in for the night. 
Excuse me writing so freely, but I never can 
forget your goodness to me when I was ill, and 
father feels very grateful too. And oh ! I forgot 
to tell you I quite love my stepmother now. 
And father says, if you do come, don't be late ; 
and perhaps you'd better not say much about 
where you're going to to any one. Prison rules 
are so strict. I have just remembered I never 
told you the day we leave : it's Friday, the night 
after you get this letter, which you needn't 



HOW **THE unexpected" HAPPENED 255 

please answer, as, of course, you'll be there. — 
Yours sincerely and gratefully, 

Amy. 

*'P.S. — My neuralgia is as bad as ever." 

Gertrude s heart was beating, audibly beat- 
ing, after re-reading the letter. Was there a 
hint in it that "the unexpected" might happen ? 
Her cheeks flushed, then suddenly paled. She 
made an excuse, and stole away to her room. 
Twenty-four hours only before she would know. 
There was but little sleep for her that night. 
The next day she kept much to her room. 
** She would be going away for a day or two. 
She had letters to write." 

Exactly at nine on that memorable Friday 
night Gertrude reached the prison gate. Two 
cabs were already there, each well-laden with 
luggage, but the prison door was closed. She 
walked about as who was expected there 
might do, keeping her eye upon the spot from 
which she looked for Amy to emerge. 

At length there was the sound of jingling 
keys, the moving of a bar and the door stood 
open, only a little space, just far enough to 
comfortably allow a human being to pass out ; 
and then it closed as Amy appeared, closely 
veiled and with a thick woollen shawl about her 
mouth and head. She was laden with wraps ; 
scarcely anything of her face was visible ; her 
voice was very unsteady as she bid Gertrude 



256 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



get into the cab nearest. She took her seat, 
asking the driver to wait until the others came 
out before starting. **Were they in plenty of 
time?" 

''Yes, miss, we can soon cover the ground 
this quiet night," was the reply; "there's next 
to no traffic you see at this time of day." 

Amy put her wraps down on the seat in front, 
drawing the shawl which covered her head and 
mouth a little more closely round her. "Oh, 
this awful neuralgia," she exclaimed, "I have 
lost so many nights' rest I feel quite unnerved." 
Then she added more brightly, I think we 
could make room for father in our cab, don't 
you? That will leave mother and aunt to 
themselves in the other cab." (This was 
spoken loudly enough for the cabman, as 
he stood by the door, to hear every word.) 
Gertrude was sure it could be managed, and 
then, suddenly starting up, Amy exclaimed, 
"Oh, I have forgotten something. Will you 
take care of my wraps for me. Miss Huntly, 
while I run back for my hand-bag ? " 

She pushed the door open as the cabman 
unlatched it and hastened off ; at a given signal 
the prison door opened to her from within. It 
was only a few seconds later, just time enough 
to reach her father's quarters and return, and 
she came back accompanied by the chief warder. 
She was stooping at the moment, busily engaged 



HOW "THE unexpected" HAPPENED 257 

in closing a small bag, the lock of which 
appeared to be troublesome. 

''Come, my dear," said he, hastily; "don't 
lose time or we shall miss our train. Get in, 
while I see after your mother and aunt, and then, 
as you are so nervous about being by yourself, 
ril come in your cab. Beg pardon. Miss Huntly, 
I had forgotten you were in that dark corner. 
Have the goodness to help Amy close that 
troublesome bag!" and shutting the door after 
his daughter had stepped into the vehicle, he 
hurried off to the assistance of the two other 
ladies who at that moment appeared, each laden 
with a bundle of shawls. ^ 

" Let me help you. Amy," said Gertrude, 
putting her hand for the bag in question, which 
she was allowed to take from the trembling 
hand which held it without resistance. At 
that moment Amy sneezed twice and raised 
her handkerchief to her face, already almost 
hidden in the shawl. 

*' Oh, I hope you have not taken cold, dear," 
Gertrude said, sympathetically. " I am so sorry 
your neuralgia continues to trouble you so 
much. The change will do you good, and I 
will take such care of you." 

"There now, we're off!" exclaimed the chief 
warder, returning at that moment and hastily 
entering the cab and taking his seat opposite 
to Gertrude ; " but it's something to have got 



258 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

two middle-aged ladies and all their belongings 
safely started. Oh, but it has been a business 
v/ith one thing and another ! 

All right, cabby — station ! And as quietly 
as you can go without losing time, as my 
daughter has been ill," he added, as if suddenly 
awakening to the fact that the cabman was 
still standing by the door and waiting for his 
orders. 

The other cab had already started, and no 
time was lost in following it. There was all 
the rumble and shaking peculiar to a four- 
wheeled vehicle of the cab order when ia 
motion, and Gertrude did not feel in the mood 
to talk, even had the circumstances of the 
moment conduced to her doing so. She was 
in some way feeling sad at heart, disappointed. - 
The removal of the chief warder from the 
prison seemed to distance her from Aubrey ;. 
while he was there she felt a nearness which 
had been of late an untold comfort. Then, 
again, the unexpected had not happened. Had 
some one called her in when reaching the prison 
gates and told her now was her chance for a 
few words with her husband, she would have 
taken it all quietly ; or, seeing him alone, had 
he said to her, Gertrude, I have found a way 
of escape, and feel justified, as an innocent 
man, in taking it," she would have received 
the news joyfully, but without emotion. She 



HOW "THE unexpected" HAPPENED 259 

had schooled herself to meet the unexpected 
when it chanced to come along without display 
of feeling. But to be sitting in a cab with 
Amy and her father, each moment taking her 
further away from Aubrey — this was too terrible 
to contemplate. Still, hope was not altogether 
non-existent. Perhaps plans would be talked 
over concerning Aubrey in this visit to the 
farm so kindly arranged for her. 

My dear young lady," said the chief warder, 
breaking in upon her thoughts, leaning forward, 
and speaking in low but very distinct tones, 
be prepared for a great surprise. When we 
reach the station I am ' hoping you may be 
joined by — " he paused and glanced round 
uneasily, as if afraid of being overheard. 

My husband ! " said Gertrude in a hushed 
voiqe, but one literally charged with the elec- 
tricity of excitement. 

Yes, I have planned that he, not Amy, 
goes with you to the farm house ; only until 
to-morrow ; it would not be safe to stay longer. 
My cousin is in the secret, and all necessary 
clothes into which he will, I hope, at once 
change on arrival, will be in readiness ; you 
will, I quite hope, be able to manage the rest. 
Amy accompanies her mother and myself by 
the 9.40 express to Bristol, on our way abroad. 
Your train starts before ours on the loop line." 

But shall I really see him ? How have you 



26o THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

managed it ? How has it all come about ? '* 
exclaimed Gertrude, in short, jerky sentences ; 
she was literally panting for breath in her 
excitement. 

** Ah, that is my secret," said the chief 
warder, with a little laugh. ''Not even my 
wife or Amy knows its mysterious history. 
See, here are your two tickets ; I had to be at 
the railway this morning, and thought to save 
time. When we reach the station you will 
carry Amy's wraps, and your bag if you can 
manage it, straight into the ladies' waiting- 
room. I will come to you when I have got 
your husband safely in the train. I will see 
you have a carriage to yourselves. Remember, 
his safety depends entirely upon your pluck to 
go through with everything quietly. You are 
only going three stations down the line, to a 
place called South Hill ; a private conveyance 
will meet you there. The address is Ivy dene 
Farm, South Hill, a pleasant drive of five miles. 
And now. Amy, when we get to the station 
you had better come and get at once into your 
train," he said, addressing Amy, who had all 
this time been gazing out of the window. We 
too," he added, have our parts to play if we 
would see ourselves safely on board our steamer 
to-morrow." 

Oh, how I thank you for your help," 
Gertrude said, with streaming eyes, to be 
gently silenced by the chief warder's Hush." 



HOW ''THE unexpected" HAPPENED 26 1 

When the cab drew up at length at the 
station, Gertrude did as she was bidden. 
Taking Amy's wraps in one hand and her 
bag in the other, she started in silence from 
the cab. 

So far, so good," the chief warder said to 
himself as she hurried off in the direction of the 
first-class ladies' waiting-room. 

" Now, Amy," he said aloud, " you had better 
come and take your seat in the train. See, 
your handbag is open again." Amy stepped 
down and attended to it, following her father as 
directed by a porter to l^o. 7 platform ; less 
than five minutes later he sought out Gertrude. 

"This way, Miss Huntly, please," he said, 
cheerfully, adding when they reached the plat- 
form, as he walked by her side, carrying her 
bag and Amy's bundle of wraps, *' these rugs 
are for you — my daughter's little gift, with her 
love. I would we might hope to meet again, 
but I fear your only safety will be in hiding 
away until things are cleared up. Get into a 
city ; change your name ; take matters quietly 
and hopefully ; they are bound to come right 
some day." He spoke in hushed tones. Then 
as they paused before a first-class carriage door 
at the end of the train, he grasped her hand. 
" God bless you both," he said, in a husky voice, 
and before another moment had passed he had 
gone, and Gertrude, with trembling footsteps 



262 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

and almost sick with excitement and expecta- 
tion, mounted the step and entered the com- 
partment, the guard coming up at the moment 
and locking her in. Glancing nervously into 
the far corner, she saw what she believed to be 
Amy's muffled figure ; surely it was the same 
as the one who had accompanied them in the 
cab ? 

Then the truth dawned upon her. She sank 
far back into the seat without daring to glance 
a second time at the one who was engaged 
intently looking out through the window nearest. 
The supposed Amy, the last one to come into 
the cab, was Aubrey. Even while they sat 
thus in silence, Gertrude realised she was in 
the presence, not of her mentally strong and 
physically vigorous husband, but of a crushed 
and broken-spirited man. Poor girl, she had to 
experience, as others have done, that sweet 
liberty cannot restore all at once that which 
captivity has deprived a man of. To a far 
greater extent than she had ever deemed 
possible, the Aubrey from whom she had 
parted barely ten long months ago was only 
a wreck of his former self. It is the first few 
months and year or two of convict life which 
make their deep mark upon a man doing his 
"penal service"; the longer the incarceration 
the more mechanical the life, and the less 
chance of new experiences carving their 



HOW *'TfIE unexpected" HAPPENED 263 

impressions upon the mind. As the train left 
the station she moved into the seat beside him. 

" Aubrey ! " she exclaimed, in a tone scarcely- 
above a whisper, but there was suppressed joy 
and surprise in it. 

" Gertrude, my faithful Gertrude," said the 
muffled figure, visibly shaking with excitement, 
and something like a sob was in his voice. 

Their hands met and neither spoke again, 
but on the first sign of slackening speed Gertrude 
returned to her seat at the other end of the 
carriage. After all, the strain of this singular 
experience was almost more than she could 
bear. Would it be too much for Aubrey? To 
relax at all, for them now to lose control of 
their feelings, and all would be lost. Oh, for 
strength and courage to keep perfectly calm ! 

Gertrude was scarcely more anxious about a 
possible breakdown at this point than was the 
one who had laid most carefully the plan of an 
innocent man's escape from the convict prison. 
The chief warder sat in silence as the Bristol 
express bore him and his wife and Amy on 
their way to the steamer which was to carry 
them from England on the morrow. He alone 
was responsible for the scheme, but others 
were involved in it; and to all, if once discovered, 
it would mean ruin and disgrace. Some one 
had to be in the secret that the widowed aunt 
whose name was entered in the book as arriving 



264 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

at the prison at noon that day, left an hour or 
two later without the fact being recorded. The 
same some one knew that, whereas the chief 
warder's daughter had hurried from the cab in 
which she had already taken her seat back to 
her father s quarters for her handbag, she had 
been personated on the return journey to the 
cab by one dressed like herself, she meanwhile 
donning a heavy mantle and widow s bonnet, 
beneath the deep crape veil of which had been 
visible a curled grey fringe, similar to the one 
which adorned the brow of the aunt who came 
at noontide and left in the early afternoon. 

There was another, too, concerned in this 
strange rescue of the innocent ; one to whom 
had been entrusted the duty of carrying out 
plans — no matter of what nature — which would 
fix the clue to the escape, when discovered the 
following morning, as associated with a drop 
from the cell window and a hazardous leap of 
several feet, baffling all traces of the missing 
man at a time when every hour gained would 
be a boon. 

No wonder the chief warder again and again, 
as the train bore them further away from the 
present with all its painful associations, wondered 
if "Miss Huntly " would be equal to the strain 
imposed upon her, and pictured the dire calamity 
for all concerned which must come as a 
sequence to discovery." 



CHAPTER XXIV 



THE FARM VISITORS 

The mistress of Ivydene Farm was watching 
impatiently for the arrival of her guests. She 
thought it a good thing that the moon was at 
its full, and this particular night was clear and 
would have been well-lighted by the myriad 
stars which were shining so brilliantly. Her 
husband was a careful driver, and the small 
covered waggon was no weight for the horse. 

A thunderstorm in the afternoon had well 
laid the dust, and the roads could not be 
better for the journey, which ought to be made, 
under favourable circumstances, in about forty 
minutes. But, calculating the train had been 
fairly punctual, they had been nearly an hour 
and a quarter. What could have happened ? 
Had something taken place to upset the 
wonderfully well-planned scheme ? 

Mrs. Sheppard had *'gone cold and hot" 
many times that day when picturing the con- 
sequences to all concerned of a breakdown. 
But she had great faith in her cousin, the chief 
warder, and faith in his faith in that plucky 
little wife who had played the prison chapel 

S 265 



266 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

organ last Sunday week. No fear of her nerve 
failing her ; but what would he be like ? Her 
cousin had often told her that prison life 
knocked the strongest into bits, particularly 
where it chanced to be some one of good birth 
who was the prisoner. Supposing No. 75 had 
fainted in the train, or had a fit just as he was 
getting out, or — 

What rubbish to bother one's head about 
the might -he's which never happen in real 
life ! " she mused. It's best to take things 
as they come — a day at a time, as mother used 
to say, bless her! and that cut up into hours 
and moments! I think I'll go and wash 
through those towels. Eliza starts early to- 
morrow — if it isn't to-morrow already ; it's best 
to be busy if one would keep one's-self in good 
spirits," and good Mrs. Sheppard bustled about 
and got her washing-tub out into the back- 
yard, putting it in its accustomed place on a 
large, flat stone. 

She was proceeding to tuck up her sleeves, 
having put a large apron over the good dress 
with which she had clothed herself in honour 
to her guests, prior to baling out the water 
from a rain-tub close at hand, for practical 
Mrs. Sheppard knew that a good day's wash 
could be got through in an emergency in cold 
rain water far better than in semi-warm water, 
which housewives called ''cruelly hard." She 



THE FARM VISITORS 



267 



had just reached this stage when she heard 
Dobbin's measured tread coming along the 
well-made high road, off which one had to 
turn to reach the farm. 

All my preparations for nothing ! " she said 
to herself, whisking off her apron and fastening 
lier gown cuff sleeves in eager haste, and then 
she laughed. ''No, it s not been lost time," 
she mused, ''for I've kept my nerves steady 
by being busy. I may need them to be strong 
before I've sent my guests well on their 
journey." 

As she came round to the front, the clatter 
of the waggon on the gravel road towards the 
house sounded quite pleasant. A little nearer 
and her husband whistled three times shrilly. 
This had been the arranged signal if the unex- 
pected had happened, and Molly was to be 
what her Tom Sheppard called " extra special 
on her guard." 

"I've picked Inspector Benson up coming 
along, Molly," her husband called out as he 
reined in Dobbin at the gate. "Take him in 
and give him a bit of supper, while I help the 
young ladies out ! " 

"So I will," said Mrs. Sheppard, brightly. 
" Come along, inspector, you'll be wanting to 
get on your way. I'll come back to you in a 
minute or two, dear girls," she called back over 
her shoulder, and she hastened the policeman 
into the house. 



268 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

** I say, it was just my good luck," exclaimed 
the inspector as he stepped in long strides by 
the side of the farmers wife. '*Your good 
husband does happen to give me a lift more 
often than not when I come this road, market 
nights, between eight and nine, but this doesn't 
happen to be market night, and it's nearer mid- 
night than nine o'clock, so I say it was all my 
luck." 

I know my Tom is always glad to oblige 
you," said Mrs. Sheppard, brightly, ''and I can 
tell you there's no one I like better to entertain, 
especially when you're not in a hurry, for then 
you give me some of your nice tales ; they're 
better than the ghost stories I tell my husband." 

By this time they had entered the house and 
passed into the little sitting-room in which the 
fragrance of roses, standing in high old- 
fashioned vases on the mantelshelf, and the 
less fragrant oil of a paraffin lamp placed on 
the centre of the supper table, were in the 
fulfilment of each special mission strangely 
suggesting that life's experiences were in- 
variably mixed. 

I expect I've the beginning of a good 
story in my hands to-night," he said, sitting 
down and passing his handkerchief over his 
forehead moist with heat. 

Indeed, now, have you really ? " said Mrs. 
Sheppard, pausing at the door -just as she was 



THE FARM VISITORS 



269 



leaving the room to return to "the girls," 
sending her husband in to look after his friend. 
Come, do tell us." 

Well, it's only the start you see," said 
the inspector, smiling and well pleased with 
his hostess' good appetite for his strange 
tales. I was just leaving our office at South 
Hill when we got a wire. Bless me, it's 
known all over England by this time. * Con- 
vict escaped ; tall, fair, blue eyes ; dropped 
thirty feet from his cell window ; not in much 
trim for going far afield ; No. 75 ' " 

" Oh, how you startle me ! " exclaimed Molly 
Sheppard, whose face had grown almost livid 
in hue. Dearly as I love to hear your tales, 
I never sleep for a night or two after you've 
told me them. I suppose it's my sympathetic 
nature ; don't you ? But don't say anything 
before my nieces. Amy's had a dreadful 
illness ; and the child has no nerve. As to 
Arabella, she's strong enough for anything ; 
you needn't mind ker. Excuse my running 
off. I'll send my husband in to you. Help 
yourself to whatever you find on the table," 
and the active little woman had run off, leaving 
the inspector more than ever struck with her 
brightness. 

Come, my dear girls, but you do look as if 
you needed a wash. Tired, are you, poor 
Amy ? " he heard her say as they passed the 



270 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



wide-open window. Then the farmer came in, 
and the young ladies were conducted upstairs 
to their room. 

Mrs. Sheppard quickly rejoined them, and 
she brought Arabella with her. 

"Amy is completely done up," she said, 
looking anxiously towards her husband. I 
am sending her up a little supper ; I have 
coaxed her to go to bed at once." 

I thought she was unusually silent for a 
young lady," ventured the inspector, ''as we 
came along. I noticed this young lady did 
most of the talking." 

" Oh, nothing ails Arabella," said Mrs. Shep- 
pard, briskly. Put her to walk ten miles and 
she would return as energetic as she started, 
but Amy quite outgrew her strength as a girl, 
and she is always a little bit of an invalid." 

" She will soon get all right in this glorious 
air," said the inspector, warmly. Then he 
divided his attention between the farmer and 
his supper. 

"If you chance to get any stray hands cater- 
ing for a job, keep them, and send for me," 
he said, as he imported into his mouth almost 
the fourth of a lettuce. 

" Looking for some one ? " said the farmer, 
watching the masterly ease with which the 
inspector reduced the imprisoned lettuce be- 
tween his massive jaws. 



THE FARM VISITORS 



271 



''Yes, an escaped convict," he replied, and 
proceeded to give Mr. Sheppard the particu- 
lars he had already given his wite. 

'' Poor beggar," said the farmer, sympa- 
thetically, ''I'd give him a fair start before 
you look for him. He'd be a bit stiff and sore 
after such a drop, if he hasn't sprained an 
ankle or two ! " 

" One's compelled to go through with one's 
duty," answered the inspector, *'or we might 
find ourselves in durance vile. But it isn't a 
pleasant task, I can tell you, to run to earth a 
poor chap who's sick with joy in getting free. 
I remember a bitter night the first winter I 
came here. We'd had a wire at the office as it 
might be to-night, and my mate and me — we 
lodged together, that's how we got a bit friendly, 
you see — made off our different ways with our 
eyes well front for what might happen. Well, 
we'd only been parted at the most twenty 
minutes when who should I see before me, 
walking on the roadway, but a poor creature of 
a fellow who was just walking in a broken 
circle. Now, you would have said he had had 
a drop too much and couldn't go straight. But 
oh, no ! it wasn't that at all ; he simply couldn't 
keep line because he had been accustomed to 
his daily march round and round yon prison 
courtyard. I spotted him in a moment — you 
can always tell a convict by his walk — and I 



272 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

went up to him as gently as I could go all in'^a 
rush, and put my hand on his shoulder. He'd 
got an old wide-awake well down over his ears, 
but it didn't hide his closely cropped hair in 
front. And, oh, my ! what piteous eyes turned 
to me as I said, * Now, what's your business 
here ? You know where you ought to be.' 

* Oh, do give me a chance, sir ; I beg you 
let me go,' he said with a voice as sweet as a 
woman's ; 'another mile and I'm safe. I've an 
old grandmother living in the gamekeeper's 
lodge at Park Woods, and she'd die before she 
gave me up — she would indeed, sir.' 

" * What's that to me?' I said, trying to speak 
sharp, but I could have cried — those eyes were 
just like my dead Maggie's — when — " 

*'When what.'^" asked the farmer, for both 
his wife and Arabella were by this time in 
tears. 

*' Well," continued the inspector, clearing his 
throat, '' my bootlace broke. It just snapped in 
two, leaving me with a loose uncomfortable boot 
which would have fallen off I do believe if I 
had attempted to walk on there and then 
without remedying matters. So I stooped down 
and attended to it ; and, would you believe it ? 
when I had got it tied together and made to do, 
somehow that fellow, with my Maggie's eyes, 
had gone — clean gone out of sight ; and as 
things would happen, a man came along riding 



THE FARM VISITORS 



a bike without a light, and by the time I had 
stopped him and taken his address I had I knew 
no chance of catching up the youngster." 

Did you never hear what became of him ? " 
inquired the farmer, brushing his coat sleeve 
over his eyes and looking as if the story had 
deeply touched him. 

''Never!" was the reply. "To the best of 
my knowledge I don't think he was ever 
caught. Once I thought I'd go and see the 
old grandmother in the woods, but there, you 
see, a busy man like me has no time for society 
calls. I must be off now, or I'll have a very 
meagre report to give in about my search for 
No. 75. He'll not get far after that drop. It 
shakes them up above a bit, and he'll be very 
stiff to-morrow." Then the inspector hurried 
off and Mr. and Mrs. Sheppard and "Arabella" 
sat looking at each other with white, scared 
faces. 

"He will call in the morning, he is bound to 
do," said the farmer, the first to find his voice ; 
" and the next day and the next." 

"Then," said Mrs. Sheppard, "the best 
thing for poor Amy will be to keep her in bed 
for a week or two. Nothing requiring the 
doctor, but a bad attack of neuralgia com- 
pletely prostrating her. We will send the maid 
away to-morrow for a holiday ; she has long 
wanted the chance of visiting a married sister 
at Peterborough." 



2 74 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

And upon this ''Arabella" went upstairs to 
"Amy" and gave "her" a detailed report of 
all that had taken place. Then, too terrified to 
have a light, they sat together by the window 
with hands clasped, and talked far on into the 
night of all the future held in store for them so 
soon as Aubrey's good name was cleared. 

And the days which followed were full of 
peace in spite of occasional anxiety lest the 
inspector should chance to call. As a matter 
of fact, beside a few words with the farmer at 
a distance remote from the house, he did not 
chance again to come that way. 

Aubrey appreciated the good food, more 
especially the bountiful supply of milk and 
eggs, and the comfortable bed which he was 
glad to keep for the few days which had 
followed his escape. The improvement in his 
looks was marked. And as his hair grew and 
his skin resumed something of its soft and 
healthy glow, he became much more pre- 
sentable in appearance. The clothes sent 
were a tourist suit of grey tweed, with a cap 
to match. The first day he donned these the 
farmer grew anxious lest the talk should get 
about that their house gave hospitality to one 
of such high bearing. 

Hence they planned a day or two's longer 
holiday for the servant, and before her return 
"the visitors" had gone. Mr. Sheppard had 



THE FARM VISITORS 



driven them to a station some fourteen miles 
away, having lent his guests a few pounds to 
begin life upon, and begging them to take 
their own time in repaying it. Within six 
months he had the loan returned, with a letter, 
every line of which breathed gratitude ; no 
address was given, the writer saying, until 
the dawn of the long -hoped -for day which 
should right the wrong, they knew they must 
hide even from their friends if they wished to 
be secure." 

Meanwhile Gertrude, when first in London, 
had begged her luggage to be forwarded to a 
governess' institute, writing to Miss Marshall 
to explain her movements by stating the fact 
of her marriage. 

''You will be surprised to hear," she said, 
that I am married. My beloved husband is 
a man worthy of highest honour. We are 
not too well off just now, but if you think it 
right for me to sacrifice a month's salary in 
lieu of notice, my husband is quite willing for 
me to do so." 

To which suggestion Miss Marshall made 
quick reply. 

" I could not hear of your doing anything of 
the sort. Of course we are very sorry to lose 
you, and, I must allow, I think your marriage 
hurried ; but I read between the lines that you 
had been engaged for a long time, and I am 



276 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

quite sure your husband deserves to be con- 
gratulated. I suppose, as you give me the 
name of Huntly, you must have married a 
cousin ? " 

To this day Miss Marshall has never had 
this suggestion on her part set right. 



CHAPTER XXV 

''DOWN ON HIS luck" 

It is a terrible thing to be hopeless and home- 
less in a great city where all too plainly the 
apostolic dictum, **No man liveth unto himself," 
is fairly well set at naught and contradicted, 
turn which way you will. It is interesting to 
study character under these conditions. If a 
man be far on in years he talks incessantly 
about the past, lighting up the darkness of his 
present lot by throwing in a little sunshine 
created by pleasant reflections. Thus the other 
day an apparent tramp, begging, quietly let it 
be admitted, his night's lodging of a passing 
stranger, when questioned about his up-to-date 
history, summed it up in a word or two, 
''awfully down on my luck," but talked glibly 
of the days when he got his articles into the 
evening papers, and the pleasure of taking 
one's seat at the reporters' table, and the excite- 
ment of producing good copy. He had had no 
dinner that day, and apparently there was no 
night's lodging in view, and the stony streets 
might be his portion to tramp from darkness to 
dawn ; but all the same he got a very fair 

277 



278 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

amount of complete enjoyment out of tales he 
told of the ''had beens," and alluded quite 
incidentally to the fact that his father was once 
rector in a seaport town. 

A younger man, one who is too near his past 
to see it in the pleasant focus which invites 
reflection, is far more inclined to be bitter and 
full of complaint. He invariably poses as a 
martyr. It is some one else's fault, not his own, 
that his life has been a failure. But if every 
one had his rights he would be enjoying at 
the present moment a fortune which drifted 
away from him to ''a fellow who had not the 
slightest claim upon it," and so forth. His 
mind is full of self-pity and bitter comment. 
Perhaps the class most to be commiserated is 
that associated with still younger men who have 
made a hurried ride to ruin, and are, as it were, 
still out of breath with their adventure ; to 
whom the excitement of wrong-doing never 
tracked home presents fascinations of a kind 
which keeps a quickened pulse and means 
spurts of speculative enterprise in the direction 
of a particular bent. 

These are the fools who say in their heart, 
''There is no God." All one to them the sins 
and shortcomings of life, so long as they are not 
called upon to answer for their wrong-doing. 
Let only another opportunity present itself, and 
they are ready for it. 



DOWN ON HIS LUCK " 



279 



Of this class and kind was Stanley Pritchard. 
All the same, he was practically homeless, and 
up to a certain point hopeless. The senior 
partner had found him out. Buncer knew him 
to be a hypocrite. He had been left without an 
alternative. There was nothing for it but to 
abscond before worse luck followed him. Cer- 
tainly no one suspected him of the forgery ; nor 
would they be likely to. What object could he 
have had ? As every one knew, he had won 
considerable sums at cards at that time, and was 
actually investing three hundred pounds at the 
very time of the trial, monies he had won, as 
witnesses had proved in the senior partner's 
presence only the week before the date of the 
forgery. 

Still, that was quite eighteen months ago, 
and the pounds had Ipng since dwindled to 
shillings and the shillings to pence, and to-day 
his pockets were empty, while he was ''on the 
look-out" for an odd job of work. True, he 
inight have gone abroad to his people, but he 
would rather starve in England than grow rich 
in the colonies ; why this was so was best 
known to himself. 

So to-day he must, by hook or by crook, find 
something to do, for he had actually spent his 
last penny, and he already owed various borrow- 
ings to friends who had once been willing to lend 
him small sums to tide over " a great need. 



2 8o THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Halloa, Shafto, where have you sprung 
from ? " he asked, suddenly addressing a young 
man whom he chanced to come face to face 
with just at the juncture of Fleet Street and 
the Strand. The young man in question was 
neatly dressed, but his coat was white at the 
seams, and his necktie (green and gold — a good 
one, doubtless, in the days of its youth) had that 
indescribable twist about it which suggests it 
had been tied once too often. 

Stanley read at a glance that his old chum 
of former days, the one who had been sum- 
marily dismissed from Catchpool Brothers after 
troubles which had threatened his own safe 
standing in connection with the firm, was very 
decidedly *'down on his luck." He was quite 
prepared for the candiH admission, for Cyril 
Shafto made no secret of his up-to-date history 
when chance threw them together. 

''Yes, I'm a bit under water just now," was 
the reply, **but I've the promise of work if I 
keep clear of drink for six months, four of 
which are nearly over — a clerkship which will 
put me on my feet again; and I'm having a 
real struggle for it, so you won't tempt to treat 
a fellow now, will you ? " 

The sentence wound up so pathetically that 
even Stanley was touched. 

Never fear," he said, warmly, I only wish 
I had half your chances. I was never lower 



DOWN ON HIS luck" 



281 



down than now ; my people have all gone 
abroad, so I can't play the penitent prodigal 
any more; I'm on my own resources entirely, 
and I'm penniless and wanting a job. Don't 
you think they might find an office stool for me 
beside yours, Shafto ? only, as I'm not on 
probation, I could go at once." 

Shafto shook his head, then suddenly a smile 
passed over his face. 

If you really mean you're wanting a job 
to-day, and don't mind what, I think I could 
put you in the way of earning two-and-sixpence, 
and as work goes, better paid than some ; but 
are you joking, or are you in earnest ? " 

I'm in dead earnest," said Stanley. I 
spent my last shilling on a substantial break- 
fast, not knowing where the next meal was to 
come from. Even two shillings and sixpence 
will not come amiss ; say a shilling for a bed 
somewhere, and ninepence for a good supper ; 
to-morrow will have to take care of itself, with 
the few coppers in hand to start it." 

Then come with me into Chancery Lane ; 
I'm just fetching my work from a Despatching 
Agent, and I can promise you some too." 

But you haven't told me the kind of work 
it is yet ? " said Stanley, turning round and 
linking his arm in that of his friend's. 

Addressing envelopes — very straightfor- 

T 



282 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

ward. Some people only pay 2s. 3d. a 
thousand, but my employer gives 2s. 6d." 

And do you work on the premises, may 
I ask ? " said Stanley, who, as he spoke, saw 
visions of his old home, and remembered 
certain teaching of which he, by^a wave of 
thought, was at that moment reminded — The 
way of transgressors is hard." True, and a 
great mountain of transgression stood between 
the boy Stanley riding his Shetland pony in 
his father's meadows and the young man who 
to-day was seriously contemplating earning 
2s. 6d. by addressing a thousand envelopes. 

No, we fetch our work," replied Shafto ; 
and there's a men's lodging-house in Drury 
Lane where you are allowed — that is, if you 
lodge there — to use a good common room, with 
a long table well supplied with pens and ink." 

Could a fellow take his work there ? " asked 
Stanley. 

Certainly, if you come with me and hint 
that you will want a bed for a night or two. 
It is very decent as things go ; and if you 
keep yourself to yourself, you might as well be 
there as anywhere else." 

So it was agreed, and within half an hour 
from that time Stanley found himself earning 
an honest penny in a way which was entirely 
new to him. He did far too much staring 
about him to make quick progress with his 



**DOWN ON HIS luck" 283 

work. Shafto reminded him that he would 
^ need all his wits about him to get through 
his thousand envelopes, and deliver them 
before the office closed at which they were 
due that evening. 

Thus admonished, Stanley kept his eyes well 
on his work. Then a slight cough, from a man 
at the lower end of the table, sitting on the 
opposite side, caused him to look up hastily. 
The next moment and turning a white face 
towards his friend Shafto, Stanley said in a 
whisper, "Who on earth is that fellow? It's the 
ghost of a man I know — Shafto, tell me what 
his name is." 

*T tell you I know no one here," said Shafto, 
never lifting his eyes from his work, *'and 
don't talk. If you can't help, don't hinder, as 
the copy-books say. If you mean to laze it, I 
must get my thousand done nevertheless." 

But," continued Stanley, who all the time 
cast fitful glances in the direction of the other 
end of the table, I tell you I must know. I 
could never work a jot with that face haunting 
me. Shafto, that man sitting there is as like as 
two peas to a man now serving his time in a 
convict prison. No, man, I tell you it's not his 
brother, for he hadn't one. If it's not his ghost, 
it's himself." 

" Hush, he'll hear you," said the indefatigable 
Shafto, still writing on mechanically, his eyes 



284 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

fixed upon a book of addresses which lay open 
before him. 

In his excitement Stanley had raised his 
voice, and the stranger at the end of the table 
turned his way, and, was it fancy? grew very 
red. Then he rose quickly from his seat and 
left the room. 

What mad impulse possessed Stanley at that 
moment to go after him ? It was only to find 
him hastily quitting the lodging-house. There 
was no fancy about it now; the fact was clear 
enough. The man, Pritchard thought to be 
Aubrey, did not like his observation. 

Once outside the door and he ran ; Stanley, 
bent on clearing up the mystery, ran too, giving 
chase. As they neared Charing Cross Road he 
came sufficiently up with him to call, with the 
hope of being heard, Rice, Aubrey Rice, 
stop ! " he exclaimed ; but his breathlessness 
through running, as also his agitation, gave a 
harshness to his tones. No one would have 
thought it was a friendly voice which called ; 
least of all the man who fled from his pursuer. 

Then there was a pause, a lumbering dray 
cart getting in the way, and before Stanley 
could continue his pursuit the man he followed 
was out of sight. 

*'Well, that beats everything I have ever 
heard by way of romance," said Stanley to 
himself, as he turned back with the full 



I 



"DOWN ON HIS luck" 285 

intention of retreating his steps to the lodging- 
house where he had left Shafto. What's he 
doing out of prison at this time ? The thing's 
pretty clear ; he's bolted, found his opportunity 
and taken it, and of course it's the last thing he 
wants to happen to meet an old friend like me. 
Well, I never did though ! Poor chap, what 
a come down to his pride, and — and — well, it 
was rather a shame to corner him over that 
forgery business. 'Pon my word, if he had been 
civil to me to-day, who knows, I might have 
dropped him a hint. But there, Stanley 
Pritchard, what's the meaning of this? you 
are getting too soft-hearted. You are not 
going to be fool enough to find quarters for 
yourself in a convict prison ! Well, . . . 
goodness alive ! — I never did — so it's really 
you, Judith ! And, please, what may you want 
of me ? " 

This last remark was addressed openly, as 
Stanley came to a sudden stop, to a little lady 
in furs who at that moment stood still and 
placed her hand on his arm. 

I am so thankful I met you, Stanley ! " she 
exclaimed, and her breath came and went 
fitfully. " I have returned to England on pur- 
pose for an interview with you." 

''After promising never to trouble me again," 
Stanley said, but not unkindly. The fact was 
he had, while meditating upon Aubrey, made 



286 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCE 

Up his mind not to return to the lodging-house 
where he had left Shafto lest he should be 
betrayed into making a confession in reference 
to the forgery case, and this being so, he was 
wondering where his next meal was to come 
from. The appearance of Judith upon the 
scene gave a hopeful suggestion about the 
settlement of that question. So much was he 
taken up with the surprise of seeing the man 
he had wronged that his wife's sudden appear- 
- ance he treated rather as a matter of course. 
" Have you dined yet ? " his wife asked in 
very natural tones, as if to meet her husband 
in this way were an everyday occurrence. 

No, but I just feel as if I would like to," 
was Stanley's reply ; that is," he added, if 
I were invited out to dinner. I've overdrawn 
my bank account, and I'm what you might call 
hard up just now." 

Well, give me the pleasure of inviting you 
to a meal," said Judith, brightly. "Where 
shall we go ? This is quite a strange neigh- 
bourhood to me." 

''If you are not ashamed to be seen walking 
beside me, we will get into the Strand. There 
are plenty of places there. I hope you have 
in mind something more substantial than an 
ABC?" 

''Certainly," said Judith, briskly, "if you let 
me off with a five-shilling dinner, I shall feel I 



**DOWN ON HIS luck" 



287 



have done well. Let it be understood it is not 
to include alcoholic drinks, for since leaving 
England I have never touched them, and never 
mean to again." 

Humph, now that's what I call mean," said 
Stanley, laughing softly to himself, "just when 
I had longed, too, for a glass of whisky. Oh, 
Judith, don't be hard upon a chap. I'm quite 
a moderate drinker, I assure you, but to give 
up everything in this way is too much to ask, 
when you have already promised to spend more 
on my dinner to-day than I sometimes manage 
to spend in a week." Stanley's tones were 
full of banter. 

Judith, however, remained firm, and the 
conversation was changed. 

You're tired of your life alone?" Stanley 
ventured a moment or two later. What do you 
say to our setting up housekeeping together 
again? I'm willing if you are." 

Judith shook her head solemnly. No," she 
said, sorrowfully, "I must see the wrong righted 
in other directions before I willingly choose to 
trust my happiness to the keeping of an unscru- 
pulous man. What about Mr. Aubrey Rice 
having been brought up on the charge of jforgery, 
Stanley ? I don't believe for a moment he was 
guilty." 

Then, pray, who was ? " said Pritchard, 
angrily. ''How can you know anything about 
t ? You were abroad at the time it happened." 



288 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

"I know I was," replied Judith, "and that 
accounts for my not coming to you for an 
explanation earlier. I missed seeing the 
English papers at that time, and only by chance 
read about the trial six weeks ago in an old 
paper in which something had been wrapped up. 
I saw what you said in evidence and noticed 
your words went further to condemn him than 
any one else." 

**And what if they did? It was a mere 
chance that I happened to be in possession of 
facts about which others were ignorant. You 
did not expect me to hold my tongue .^^ I spoke 
in the interests of the Firm." 

I am not quite clear you did not speak in 
your own," said Judith, looking up very earnestly 
into his face, *'and that is what I have come 
home to England about. I could not rest for 
thinking that the ^500 you brought me had 
somehow something to do with that calamitous 
trial." 

" You can make your mind quite happy, 
Judith. I took your advice. and borrowed the 
money you wanted. Nothing was easier, and if 
it had been twice the sum I should have had no 
difficulty about getting it." 

I wish I could believe it," said Judith, 
seriously. 

Perhaps you will be able to do so after 
a good dinner. See, here we are at a famous 
place." 



"down on his luck" 



289 



" Then, if you will excuse me, I will leave you 
to order your own," the little lady remarked 
drily. After all, I have no appetite at this 
moment. Here are ten shillings to provide 
you with enough and to spare, not only for the 
present moment but for one or two days to 
come, I hope. There, good-bye, I must go now. 
It has taken me nearly a month to find you. 
Where can I write if anything unforeseen 
happens ? " 

Care of the man in the moon," said Stanley, 
with a little laugh. " That is the nearest 
address I can give you. I am here, there, and 
everywhere, according to the state of finances. 
Ta-ta ! " 

But," said Judith, still hesitating to take 
her dismissal without securing an address which 
would keep her in touch with Stanley, do you 
not think, while * your account at the bank ' is 
* overdrawn,' you would be glad to look for an 
occasional letter which might help you to get a 
dinner should you be requiring one ? " 

She put the question naively, and there was 
not an atom of irony in tone or manner. 

There's something in what you say," replied 
Stanley. Well then, you can at any time 
find me by addressing a letter to a certain 
tobacconist shop which stands half-way down 
a street leading off yonder," and he pointed in 
the direction, giving at the same time the name 
of the street. 'Pon my word, Judith, but if 



290 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

you like to write me a sensible letter every 
week, I should be glad of it. I've been awfully 
wretched lately, what with one thing or another, 
though I don't just know why I'm going to tell 
you about it." 

I should start life afresh if I were you, 
Stanley," Judith said, with evident effort. 
" Make up your mind to do what you learnt 
as a child in your catechism — * to be true and 
just in all your dealings.' " 

Thank you, when I want a lecture of that 
sort I will come to you for it," interrupted 
Stanley, hotly. " I am as good as you any 
day, only my sins are all on the outside and 
yours are below the surface." 

A look of real pain came into Judith's face. 

Don't let us quarrel," she said, almost 
humbly. If we do now and again chance to 
meet, let it be in peace, Stanley. I am not 
setting myself up as a saint, but I have begun 
to see the error of my ways," and with that she 
was gone, leaving Stanley Pritchard gazing 
after her in astonishment. 

Poor Judith, what a good little wife she 
would have made a right sort of husband. It's 
a pity we never could quite hit it off," he mused 
as he turned into the eating-house near which 
they had been standing, and ordered a very 
economical dinner. 

Meanwhile Judith hastened into a passing 
omnibus on its way to Westminster. She 



"DOWN ON HIS luck" 



291 



longed for the quiet of the Abbey ; its dignified 
and holy silence soothed her chafed spirit. 
Daily since her return to England she had 
found her opportunity of spending a quiet hour 
within the sacred precincts, so much had 
happened of late to quell her haughty spirit 
and put her uncompromising behaviour to her 
husband, when first discovering he was other 
than she had been led to believe him to be, in 
its true light. Were not her sins of temper as 
wrong in God's sight as Stanley's apparently 
greater moral discrepancies ? Were there no 
points in his history, possibly associated with 
his antecedents, which made excuse for his 
weakness of character, while, in her case, did 
she not hold as her own a vigorous moral, as 
also physical, nature ? Could she find excuse 
for her own shortcomings through lack of home 
training or inherited foibles ? Stanley had more 
than once alluded to his father's drinking habits ; 
was there no connection between these and his 
own failures in life ? While thinking thus, 
Judith had found reason to bewail her readiness 
to let her husband drift from her, the troubles 
which eventually separated them being, she felt 
sure to-day, as much of her own making as of 
his, while with her rested the larger responsi- 
bility. 

True, she had been ruthlessly deceived ; but 
was it not Stanley's way to deceive ? He had 
not treated her other than he had treated the 



292 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



world generally. She blamed herself for accept- 
ing his word so readily, when common sense 
urged the need of inquiry proportionate to the 
seriousness of the cause involved. 

These reflections had softened Judith's heart 
very much towards her husband, whom she had 
never ceased to love. On her way home from 
abroad, impelled by the desire to clear up her 
anguished doubts in connection with the forgery 
case, she had met with those who had for the 
first time in her life represented to her in human 
form (which she could scrutinise closely and 
without detraction) the religion of Christ. 

Few words were spoken directly upon the 
matter, but Judith received impressions which 
would never be obliterated ; indeed, which 
became all unconsciously woven into her own 
inner life. They were possibly the initial cause 
of her daily visits to the Abbey. Her heart 
hungered for something it did not possess. 
Her eyes were searching for the Light, glints 
of which had come to her in the lives of her 
fellow-travellers from abroad. It was many 
years afterwards that she first saw Tennyson's 
lines, which she claimed as representing exactly 
her own condition at the time of which we 
write — 

And what am I ? 
An infant crying in the night, 
An infant crying for the light, 
And with no language but a cry. 



CHAPTER XXVI 



EIGHT THOUSAND EMPTY CHAIRS 

It was a dull November evening. The rain 
had been drizzling all day with the indefinite 
persistence which has been likened to the irri- 
tating nagging of a bad-tempered person whose 
outbursts of passion would be accounted infinite 
relief. 

The East End of London was looking miser- 
ably, hopelessly black and dirty, but it did not 
mean, as it might have done in a clean little 
market town for instance in the provinces, that 
streets were deserted, and business practically 
suspended until the morrow. Far from it ; the 
depressing state of the weather meant to that 
particular neighbourhood, seeking in the open 
street what the pitiless so-called home could not 
give, temporary deliverance from the sickening 
heat of just such a night indoors. 

You who live in well-built houses, let alone 
substantial mansions, where ceiling and floor 
have at least from twelve to fifteen feet between 
them, and ventilation, however imperfect, makes 
it easy to breathe without being conscious of the 
fact that you have to do so, you cannot form 

293 



294 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

any idea of the suffering of the ill-housed 
poor, those to whom the conditions of living 
come perilously near to a healthy mind's con- 
ception of that place, peopled by fallen angels, 
about which those who have been in the world 
half a century heard more in their childhood 
than they do to-day. Do the poor never get 
used to this state of things ? Yes, in a measure, 
and this is the pity of it. This is where the 
difficulty comes in of redeeming them from the 
physical and moral depression of their lives. 
They are accustomed to the polluted atmo- 
sphere which is so full of power to injure, and 
whereas, at one time they might have cried, 
For pity's sake, help us," it is quite possible 
to-day to change that cry with one of resentment 
of interference, Let us alone, what have we to 
do with thee ? " 

Oh, for public opinion to cry down the high 
rents and insanitary dwellings which hang a 
millstone round the necks of our struggling 
poor from the very day of their birth into this 
world ! It has too long, been left to the private 
conscience of individual landlords to regulate 
the price which the poor have to pay for the 
doubtful, to them, privilege of living. Surely 
the day has come when a civilised people, to 
say nothing of a Christian people, will insist 
that all have equal rights of breathing space, 
regardless of position or status. 



EIGHT THOUSAND EMPTY CHAIRS 295 

The world still scoffingly asks with Cain of 
old, **Am I my brother's keeper?" It is for 
Christian England to reply, *'No, not his keeper, 
but your brother's brother." 

Still, this is all by the way, and apology must 
be made for the digression which arose while 
explaining that a wet November night did not 
mean deserted streets in the locality in which 
we find Guy Manville, the future Lord Horrick, 
and his friend Hugh Watson who had driven 
from the West End in a private hansom as far 
as Stepney station, and who now found them- 
selves on foot making their way, as directed 
by a policeman, to the substantial temporary 
building in which Moody and Sankey were 
. holding their, by this time, far-famed evan- 
gelistic services. 

It does credit to your perseverance, if not 
to your taste, Manville," said Guy's companion, 
picking his way through the puddles as 
delicately as his patent-leather-clad feet would 
suggest was, under the circumstances, wise. 

Think of foregoing the opera for a ' show ' of 
this kind ; what would Lady Harriet say if she 
knew ? " 

My mother is good enough to think well 
of my wisdom wherever displayed," said Guy, 
laughing. She is not troubled with nervous 
fears about my chosen pastimes. It will be all 
one to her, if I amuse myself rationally, where- 
ever I go." 



296 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Then you admit you came here to-night 
purely for amusement ? " 

No, not purely ; I think curiosity shares the 
honour of bringing me this way. I am so 
really interested to know what eight thousand 
empty chairs look like. The idea fascinates 
me. Of course one gets accustomed to the 
thought of hundreds, but think what thousands 
must be." 

Guy s companion laughed. " But, my dear 
fellow, how are you going to see them empty if 
there's a service going on ? Has your artistic 
mind grasped the fact that the great unwashed 
will be there in abundance ? This man Moody 
has a marvellous following, so the papers say. 
He is a born conjuror. He makes much out of 
nothing, and gets his audience to believe in him 
thoroughly." 

Perhaps," said Guy, " they will not flock in 
great numbers to-night. The weather does not 
certainly suggest comfort in a wooden building 
of huge dimensions. If we chance to find it 
full, we can but wait until the end and see it 
cleared. I mean to gratify my curiosity, and 
look at those eight thousand chairs." 

They were passing Stepney Church at the 
time, and it was striking eight, a fact which 
made the two friends quicken their steps. 

'*As well to be there when the curtain rises 
and see the full play," said Guy s friend, with a 
latent sneer in his tones. 



EIGHT THOUSAND EMPTY CHAIRS 297 

" Yes, just as well," was his companion's 
reply. Half a crown in the collection ought 
to pay the expense from the start. By the 
way, I wonder if we should have had tickets of 
admission ? " 

At that moment the flaring gaslights of the 
street stalls and the Buy, buy, buy " given 
with marked nasal intonation by the persistent 
salesmen, the glare of a near public-house 
packed to overflowing, the little crowd waiting 
its turn to pass in collected at the door, the 
dejected, slip-shod walk of bedraggled women 
and men wearing their characters in their faces 
— failed, missed the mark, what's the use of 
life to us ? " — the sight literally appalled Guy 
Manville, stereotyping itself for ever upon 
a mind prepared by natural sympathy and 
generous desire to alleviate trouble, to receive 
lasting impressions of this kind. 

" Like to take a flat and settle amongst 
these natives ? " asked Hugh, with an irrepres- 
sible sneer, as the two paused and gazed about 
them. Did you ever see more horrible 
products of drink and disaster ? Poor beggars, 
most of them doubtless born and bred to it." 

But Guy Manville was paying no attention 
to his friend's remark ; he had turned aside, 
addressed by a lady wearing the dress of 
deaconess or nurse, perhaps it was a little of 
both, for Dora Thatchet had simply adopted 
u 



298 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

a dress for her East End ministrations 
which was as unlike as possible to the pretty- 
garb of fashion's choosing which she usually 
wore in the West End. She found it was a 
sure protection to be clothed in garments which 
gave her in a way a right to the name of 

sister," and even her stately aunt of Berkeley 
Square was quite happy in the child," as she 
called her favourite niece, " taking herself off 
to Stepney and the farther East thus attired. 
No one could be rude or ill-mannered to 
such an apparition." 

Dora was holding up some tickets to Guy. 

Will you accept a ticket for JVIr. Moody's 
meeting? Perhaps you are on your way 
there ? No admission without tickets for 
another half-hour," she said, glancing at her 
watch as she spoke. 

We are on our way," said Guy, very much 
struck with the simple and unaffected manners 
of the beautiful girl who was speaking to him. 

Curiosity brings us from the West End to 
spy out the land and see for ourselves what 
sort of a man this prophet is of whom the 
whole world of London raves to-day." 

And the empty chairs," said Hugh, giving 
Guy a friendly rap with the handle of his 
umbrella. The rain had cleared some few 
minutes previously, and the umbrellas had been 
closed. 



EIGHT THOUSAND EMPTY CHAIRS 299 

Yes," laughingly continued Guy, I own 
I have a curiosity to see 8000 chairs side by 
side in rows — empty, you know." 

Empty?" said Dora Thatchet, laughing; 
well, you must make haste and get a seat on 
the platform, and wait until the service closes. 
See, I have tickets for workers," and she dived 
eagerly into her little hand-bag and brought out 
tickets of another colour than those already 
offered. 

But we are not workers, and so not entitled 
to seats on the platform, I fear," said Guy, 
and there was a ring of sincere regret in his 
voice. 

Dora s face shadowed, but only for a moment. 
The next she smiled very brightly upon Guy, 
and she said, " I see you have yet to awake to 
your privileges. But Mr. Moody will tell you 
all about it. I owe so much to him, you must 
forgive my impulsiveness," she added, redden- 
ing ; I never knew what it was to be really 
happy until Mr. Moody taught me to read my 
Bible aright. Good night, I must hasten on 
with my tickets." 

She was moving away hurriedly when Guy 
said, But please give us our two wherever you 
think we may hope to find room and to hear 
well." 

I think you must go to the platform after all," 
she said, smiling through what seemed to be 



300 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



some tear-filled eyes. "All the near seats in 
the body of the building will be taken. A few 
are always reserved on the platform for late- 
comers — -friends of workers,'' she added, almost 
playfully. If you do not mind taking my 
name with you as your passport, you will be 
admitted all right. Please say, * friends of Sister 
Dora,' " and with that she sped on her way, 
leaving Guy with two workers' tickets in his 
hand, and in his heart — a memory. 

It was only a few moments later when the 
two friends took their seats to Mr. Moody's left 
on the very spacious platform provided for the 
choir and workers. It was a little while before 
Guy realised that theirs was the choir side ,* 
indeed, that he and Hugh occupied two chairs 
in the seats left for the tenors. It was quite an 
accident, but, the two chairs being vacant, it 
was natural for the steward to take them to 
them. Two of Sankey's hymn books with 
music were on the chairs ; hence, being there^ 
it was also quite natural for the two young men 
to join in the hymns. 

Guy chanced to have a good tenor voice, but 
his friend was no musician, and was inclined to 
laugh to himself over the misfitting position he 
was called to occupy. 

Meanwhile Guy was moved immensely as he 
gazed down from the platform upon a sea of 
upturned faces. It appeared as if the but 



EIGHT THOUSAND EMPTY CHAIRS 3OI 

dimly-lighted building was full from end to end. 
Great care had been taken to seat the people 
closely, crowds being always expected ; but as 
a matter of fact there were several seats still 
vacant at the back, chairs which would be 
quickly filled by the non-ticket-holders as soon 
as the time came to open the doors to them. 

The hymn which Moody was giving out 
when Guy and his friend reached the platform 
was one quite unfamiliar to the young men, but, 
by the eager way in which the people took up 
the chorus, evidently a favourite one with the 
audience. 

The choir sang the refrain in clear and 
beautifully harmonised voices — 

Weary wanderer, stop and listen, 
Happy news we bring to thee, 

Jesus has prepared a banquet, 

Come, and welcome thou shalt be. 

And the people took up the chorus with spirit — 

Make no longer vain excuses, 
Jesus calls and calls thee now ; 

Come, for everything is ready. 
Weary soul, why waitest thou? 

Never before had Guy listened to singing 
such as this. It was pre-eminently musical in 
spite of its homeliness. It was absolutely 
inspiring in the sudden swelling tide of appeal 
which the chorus suggested. 



V 



302 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

As he sang out the last lines of the chorus, 
twice repeated at the closing verse, 

Weary soul, why waitest thou? 
something very like a mist came over his eyes 
as he murmured to himself as he took his seat, 
" Ah, why indeed!" 

The words had gone home, penetrating a 
reserved nature and a proud heart. Guy 
Manville, like many another high-born, cultured 
man in those stirring times of Moody and 
Sankey's visit to England, had to acknowledge 
before that evening was over that from the 
first hymn to the last words of benediction, that 
meeting had been to him as a voice from 
Heaven. Try as he would, he could not get 
away from the appeal which held him spell- 
bound from first to last. 

Mr. Sankey had sung mid- way in the service — 

Nothing but leaves, 
The spirit grieves 
Over a wasted life ; 
O'er sins indulged while conscience slept, 
O'er vows and promises unkept, 

And reaps from years of strife 
Nothing but leaves, nothing but leaves. 

To Guy as he sat there, every fibre of his 
being swayed by new feelings, new emotions, 
he thought it might have been written for his 
case, so exactly did it portray the measure he 
took there and then of his own life. 



EIGHT THOUSAND EMPTY CHAIRS 303 

As in a panorama he saw the past — child- 
hood, youth, manhood, home life, 'Varsity life, 
and life as lived to-day, bearing only the stamp 
of self. What had he ever done for others 
worth doing ? What had the Christ been to him 
personally, individually, more than a name, a 
name, too, chiefly associated with enforced 
attendance at church, with sermons pleasant 
only in their ending, with solemn (and these 
but rare) occasions of depression or active 
trouble ? 

Whereas — oh ! the possibilities which life 
held — real life, true, actual life, not the word, 
the sound, but the vitality itself. 

When Mr. Moody began to speak — the 
address in all could only have lasted some 
fifteen or twenty minutes — Guy was conscious 
of the same fascination. Bluff almost to 
brusqueness, rough, rugged, and uncultured, 
with an American accent and choice of 
language — I guess " and I reckon " — what 
was there in the preacher to claim affinity with 
the young aristocrat of noble birth and refined 
education, the Society man who an hour or 
two ago could count as his highest enjoyment 
a game of billiards with an opponent worth 
the fighting, or a champagne lunch with 
congenial friends ? 

In the man Moody himself nothing, nothing ; 
but in the messenger of God, be his name 



304 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Moody or what not, whose spiritual being- 
was such an absolute reahty, such a divine 
force that it alone was felt, realised — much, 
very much. 

Guy sat and listened as one to whom God 
Himself was speaking. 

I am the Light of the World," thundered 
Moody, repeating again and again his text, 
'*Who said it? Christ. What right had 
He to say it ? Every right, because it is 
true, as every one may prove. Shut yourself 
up in a cellar on a blazing hot summer's day 
and shout till you're hoarse, ' There's no such 
thing as sunshine,' what difference would it 
make to the man who's out in the warmth 
and glow and light of the sun ? None what- 
ever. He's proved for himself what it is like. 
Why don't you prove — you, my friend there, 
you, you, what the Saviour meant every 
one to understand — that He is the Light of 
the World, the Light of Life? 

You've been long enough in the kingdom 
of darkness, I reckon, to tell pretty much what 
it's like. It's not suggestive of much peace or 
happiness or useful service for other folks 
now, is it? There's a lot of disappointment 
to be accounted for, a world of trouble and 
anguish, and, worse than all else, a conscious- 
ness that life's a failure, look at it which way 
you will. My dear friends, of course it is, and 



i 



EIGHT THOUSAND EMPTY CHAIRS 305 

It will get more and more so, only your senses 
may be dulled, and you won't always see it as 
you do to-day. Why do you loiter or linger 
when He calls you out of darkness? He, 
the Christ, God's own Beloved Son, calls you 
out of darkness into His marvellous light. 
Why? What to do? To live to yourself 
as you've been doing all these years ? No, 
my friend, leave that to those who serve 
the Prince of Darkness — that's his creed. 
Please yourself and be happy. Why, the 
very command holds a lie. No man is happy 
while pleasing himself is his life object. No, 
no ; our Lord Jesus Christ has something 
better in store for those He calls out of dark- 
ness into His marvellous light: it is, that they 
may show forth the Father s praises. 

A new heart, a new nature, a new life: — all 
belongs to the new venture. In His light we 
see light. We see sin atoned for by His precious 
sacrifice — death upon the cross ; sin forgiven 
because He bore our sins and suffered for our 
iniquities ; the chastisement of our peace was 
upon Him. With His stripes we are healed. 
Jesus Christ is ours. What wonder that 
breathing a new life, with new instincts and 
ambitions, we long to show forth His praises ; 
and how do we do it ? The Bible tells us 
straight — show our love to God by our love to 
man. By love we serve one another. Oh, 



306 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

how the praises are mounting up to-night of 
some hearts at this very moment, longing for 
the salvation of other dear ones! How they 
sound like beautiful bells of joy and thanks- 
giving in Heaven to-night, while one and 
another says, ' Lord, what wilt Thou have^me 
to do ? In the past I have lived for self, but 
to-night I give myself to Thee. Let me be a 
soul- winner.'" 

It was about two hours later when Mr. Moody 
took leave of a young man with whom he had 
had a somewhat lengthy interview in the 
inquiry room. 

Well, good-bye, God bless you and make 
you a blessing to others," said the evangelist,, 
taking the young man's hand in a warm grasp, 
and bringing up his left hand over the right 
with a prolonged shaking. 

They were the last to leave the inquiry 
room, workers and seekers after sympathy and 
help alike had gone. The building itself was- 
in semi-darkness. A steward, whose business 
it was to see all lights out, lingered in the 
distance. He knew Mr. Moody's special wish 
to be left alone with any who desired a word 
with him ; hence he put himself well beyond 
earshot. 

Do you know what brought me here to- 
night ? " said the young man, speaking in a. 
subdued voice, but with just that joyous. 



EIGHT THOUSAND EMPTY CHAIRS 307 



intonation which proclaims some great anxiety- 
removed or delight recently appropriated. 

'*God Himself brought you here, young 
gentleman, to be converted to Him," answered 
Moody, bluntly. 

" True," was the reply, while a brilliant smile 
swept over the handsome features of the young 
man, "but He uses means as you were telling 
me just now, and His 'means* in my case was 
the desire to see eight thousand chairs set out 
in rows as I see them at this moment." 

Needless to say the young man who said this 
was Guy Manville. 



CHAPTER XXVII 



DOWN EASTWARDS 

Judith had met Stanley by appointment. They 
had not seen each other since meeting so un- 
expectedly, on Pritchard's part, the morning upon 
which he had given chase, as he believed, to 
Aubrey Rice, but they had corresponded, and 
Stanley had received weekly a postal order ''to 
keep the wolf from the door." 

A great many things had happened to which 
Judith had never alluded in her letters, but the 
time had come when she must explain certain 
matters to Stanley. They were simple enough 
in the main, but fraught with large issues. "You 
know," said Judith, as she and her husband 
paced the Victoria Embankment, having met 
outside the Guildhall School of Music, and 
there was a touch of the old playfulness in her 
tones, "other people cannot get through life 
without having their own lawyer; neither can I. 
I had to see mine last, I mean years ago, 
about a little piece of business which I hope 
you regret as much as I do to-day ; but three 
weeks ago I looked him up just to give him a 
friendly call, and my appearance caused quite a 

308 



DOWN EASTWARDS 



sensation. He thought of me as on the other side 
of the Atlantic, and there was a letter addressed 
to me and actually stamped, lying upon his desk 
ready for the post!" 

''And you collared it there and then, and put 
the rescued stamps in your purse?" said Stanley, 
laughing. Judith s freshness was very inspiring; 
she came, as her letters always did, as a sort of 
breeze into his life, and whatever his mood for 
the moment he was the better. 

''I am afraid I forgot all about the stamps," 
said Judith, laughing ; "my brain was quite 
turned for the moment by the news verbally 
given me, the news the letter was intended to con- 
vey. An old uncle of my father s, living away in 
Gloucestershire in the Forest of Dean, had died, 
leaving his great-niece, Judith, sole possessor 
of his property. We always thought him poor, 
very poor, but it turns out he had saved and 
hidden away about his cottage quite a little 
fortune. And now, Stanley, I have come to-day 
to ask you to let bygones be bygones. I want 
you to leave this great city in which you have 
had so many troubled times, and come down 
into the country. We will set aside our legal 
separation, which we have really annulled long 
ago, and start life afresh. I promise never to 
nag at you or remind you of other days; and if 
you agree to this plan, I mean to trust you 
once again and believe all you tell me, so you 
will have to be on your honour, sir!" 



3IO THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

" Oh, Judith ! how could you be so — so 
merciful ? " exclaimed Stanley, his eyes filling 
with honest tears. "No, I'm a brute, and 
there's no saving me." 

" You are not a brute," said Judith, emphati- 
cally ; you are a man with a mind, and you 
are going to use that mind. Come, just say 
you agree to my plan, because I have heaps 
more to tell you, that is, if you mean to give 
me the pleasure of receiving you into my 
cottage as a guest who will early arrange to 
take up his residence there altogether." 

After this, Judith talked to her heart's 
content. Stanley looked pleased, though 
saying but little. 

It was barely ten days later when the two 
took possession of the pretty cottage in 
Mitcheldean. Judith had urged her husband 
to get into steady employment, although their 
property was quite enough to keep the two, 
if living quietly. 

It was not long before Stanley secured a 
local appointment as collector, and for a while 
things went on well ; but harvest festivities 
led to a broken pledge — for he had pledged 
his word to Judith to abstain from all intoxi- 
cating drinks as a beverage — and the drift 
downward set in from that hour. Judith met 
the downfall with hopeful pleading. Once she 
would have railed at him for folly and weak- 



DOWN EASTWARDS 



ness ; to-day she spoke only of renewed effort 
and of the perseverance which carries its own 
success. 

She had her reward ; Stanley made a fresh 
start ; he had lost his appointment, but was 
not long before finding another. Again a few 
months of comparative rest to Judith ; then 
disgrace which threatened ruin to her most 
sanguine hopes and plans. Stanley had 
embezzled some money of which as collector 
he was in charge, and had absconded. 

To take from her little capital and make 
good the default was only a work of time, 
brought about with as much expedition as 
could be planned. Then, not getting a word 
from Stanley, and taking for granted that 
London would be his hiding - ground, Judith 
let her cottage furnished, and set off in search 
of her missing husband. 

She took a humble lodging to be at as little 
expense as possible, and spent most of her days 
visiting spots which she had known her husband 
to frequent. Nor did she confine her search- 
ings to daylight. She found her way to the 
various music halls known to her so well by 
name, but into none of which had she ever 
entered. At these doors she stood scanning the 
faces of all who passed in or out. Once she 
thought to go within and gaze upon the crowd. 
With trembling hand she paid her entrance 



312 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

money and entered. Dazzled by the light, 
bewildered by the music, at that moment un- 
usually brilliant, she stood transfixed, as in a 
lull a girlish voice sang a popular ditty, not too 
exalted in tone and character from the start, 
but coarsening at its close ; then, with burning 
cheek and quickened pulse, indignant at the 
insult offered in the song to all pure woman- 
hood, Judith turned and fled, never again to 
repeat the experiment. 

And all this while her great love for Stanley 
gave her hope and led her on to plan what 
should be the next thing done when he was 
found. They would travel, go round the world 
together, visit her mother, from whom she had 
carefully kept back her sad news. He would 
grow stronger with added years, until the wild 
oats sown in youth and reaped in matured 
manhood would be swept aside, leaving the 
after-life ready to be lived wisely and dis- 
creetly. 

But the months passed on and still she found 
no clue to Stanley s movements. Her lawyer 
had suggested, Why not give him up ? 
Return to your mother, and forget you ever 
knew the man," to which advice, with scalding 
tears shadowing her beautiful eyes, Judith had 
made quick reply, *'No, Mr. Ashley, as I read 
my wifely duties to-day (I own it was not 
always so), I can never relinquish my search 



DOWN EASTWARDS 



for Stanley Pritchard. Let me but find him 
and convince him by my ceaseless endeavour to 
trace him that my love is undying, and I may 
win him yet to a better hope and life!" 

''Well, young lady, may you be rewarded, if 
not in this world, in the next," had been the 
lawyer's reply, much moved. 

Then the unexpected happened. Judith met 
the one at whose house she and Stanley had 
stayed at the Lakes when first married ; a 
motherly kind of woman, now on a visit to 
London, who in her way had both admired and 
pitied the bride who was so many years older 
than her husband. "She was far too good for 
him." "There was more love on her side than 
his,'' and so forth. 

"Why, my dear Mrs. Pritchard, can it be 
you?" she exclaimed, chancing to take a seat 
beside Judith in St. James' Park one morning. 
It was spring-time and some five months since 
Stanley had left home. "Why, it was but the 
other day I met your husband in the People's 
Palace, Mile End way, you know ? I asked after 
you, and I thought I understood him you were 
away abroad for a while with your mother." 

"How did he seem? What did he look like? 
Was he — about the same as when you first knew 
him?" Judith put the questions breathlessly. 

"Well, now you ask so plain, I'll not deny it 
gave me a bit of a turn to see how changed he 

X 



314 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

was. He looked years older and — well, less 
careful about himself. It struck me his hair 
wanted cutting, and he would have done with a 
clean collar. There, my dear! I really must 
ask you to forgive me, but now you put it to 
me, it seems only right to speak out!" 

''Poor fellow," said Judith, feelingly; "he 
has been worried a good deal lately, and he 
prefers being by himself just now. I am 
longing to see him, but must wait my time. 
Does he look ill?" 

'' Not a bit of it," said the good woman, who 
could see well enough through Judith's very 
transparent endeavour to shield her husband, 
but was scarcely cultured enough to hide her 
discovery ; one more degree of natural refine- 
ment and she might have accomplished it. 
*' He looked as if he enjoyed a good dinner 
every day, and I'm afraid by the appearance of 
his eyes he takes his drink pretty freely. There, 
my dear, if, as I suppose, he's not turned out a 
good bargain, take my advice and do not break 
your heart over him. If he throws his life 
away, don't you lose yours in fretting after him. 
He's not worth it." 

The Bible tells us we save our lives in losing 
them," said Judith, solemnly, but when speaking 
her eyes were on the ground at her feet. She 
was thinking aloud : I shall not lose mine if 
I can get my husband back again — I mean 



DOWN EASTWARDS 



away from this dreadful London. There is so 
much here to tempt a man to go off the straight 
path—" 

She stopped abruptly. No, not even to this 
comparative stranger could Judith prevaricate. 
Stanley had not started off the right road in 
this last breakdown in London. In the peaceful 
village, lying in the heart of some of the fairest 
scenery in England, Stanley had had set before 
him life and death — and he had chosen death. 

It is not the "without" of life's surroundings 
and circumstances which tempt a man to sin, 
but the within " of a heart prone to evil. 
The microbes of disease only germinate and 
create sickness where the physical frame of 
one approached connives at the conspiracy of 
evil ; what the healthy refuse the weakly 
appropriate. Hence the wisdom of the counsel. 

Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of 
it are the issues of life." 

This accidental meeting in St. James' Park 
took Judith eastwards. Stanley would be 
living there, and frequenting the People's 
Palace for his recreation and his meals. And 
this departure from west to east brought 
Judith — later — in contact with Mr. Moody's 
meetings, of which mention has already been 
made. She attended the services night by 
night, searching there as everywhere else for 
Stanley, helped and strengthened for her 



3l6 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

sorrowful life in ways which can never be fitly 
described, and only understood when personally 
realised. 

It was on one of these never-to-be-forgotten 
evenings that she first met Sister Dora, to 
whom later she told her sorrowful story. It 
was natural for Guy Manville, who by this 
time was a recognised convert of the mission, 
and one desiring to be a worker in the East 
End, to be taken into confidence, Sister Dora 
claiming his help in the search ; and it was also 
natural for these three, Judith and Sister Dora 
and Guy, having found each other under these 
circumstances, not to lose each other again. 

Long after Moody's visit had become only a 
memory with the world generally around 
Stepney, these three met twice at least weekly 
to compare notes and see what progress had 
been made. Judith was lodging in Bromley 
Street, near to Stepney Meeting House. She 
shared the sitting-room, in the house of a 
widow, with a lay missionary, a woman whose 
zeal and love for poor lost humanity made her a 
noted character in that part of the world. 

It was in this sitting-room that the three met, 
and Guy was not long in discovering that some- 
thing more than interest in Mrs. Pritchards 
search for her missing husband led him to 
welcome each opportunity of finding his way 
there as a Heaven-permitted joy. 



CHAPTER XXVIII 



AN INTERVIEW AT THE MANOR 

Squire Butler-Edgcombe lived a life of quiet 
usefulness, and in his way enjoyed himself. 
He devoted a good deal of time to politics, but 
more to philanthropy. The Rector was so con- 
vinced of his sanctified common sense that he 
was quite ready to make advances towards a 
personal friendship. 

But the Squire gave him no encouragement. 
The man who could deny his daughter her 
rights as such must, he argued, have a heart 
of stone. While he persisted in banishing 
Gertrude Rice from the Rectory, he need not 
expect to be tolerated as a guest at the Manor 
House. Hence the two remained strangers 
to each other and little more. 

The Squire's pleasure in those days was to 
hunt up any who could claim relationship, how- 
ever distant, with himself, easing off work to 
men well on in life by settling a small annuity 
upon them, helping forward some of a younger 
generation to whom the gift of a few hundred 
pounds at the right moment was better than 
thousands left to them at an inopportune season, 

317 



3l8 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Otherwise a time when powers and energies 
were on the wane and ambition itself was dying 
a natural death. 

With his lawyer the Squire had friendly 
intercourse from time to time. He had never 
regretted the bargain struck over the trial 
which was to secure to him, or lose, his property ; 
nor did he doubt but what the enterprising and 
energetic solicitor would succeed him when, 
in the providence of God, he was called to join 
his saintly wife and sister-in-law in Heaven. 

Hence it came to him as quite a shock one 
day to read in the Times of the death of the 
very man of whom he had so often thought as 
the one to take his place at Edgcombe Manor. 
He tried in many ways after this to cultivate 
the son, but it was almost a pain to him to do 
so, for Cyril Grant was a man as contrary to 
the Squire as it was possible to be. He was a 
man who aspired to be great, and in the very 
effort to become so established his own small- 
ness. Look at him which way he would, the 
Squire found cause to dislike him. He was a 
young upstart ! So said Mr. Butler- Edgcombe 
to himself, after going out of his way to become 
more friendly ; more was the pity that sooner or 
later he would be in power at Edgcombe Manor, 
and bring in force a reign of terror which would 
go far to undo any good which he might, under 
Providence, have managed to effect during the 
past few years. 



AN INTERVIEW AT THE MANOR 319 



Still, the Squire was not a man to worry over 
prospective trouble. The only difference that 
he permitted to be established in his mind was 
an added care to make hay while the sun shone. 
Only those in possession of wealth know how 
much can be done with it when to the willing- 
ness to bestow is allied the determination to find 
out how best to act in the interests of the one 
benefited. It is one thing to sit down and 
write a cheque for a hundred pounds, and 
quite another matter to plan how best to spend 
that sum upon an individual without injuring 
self-respect or reducing the vital forces of self- 
help. 

Mr. Butler-Edgcombe had been in town, a 
visit to his tailor being earlier than anticipated 
in the season, as he had a deep-set plan upper- 
most in his mind just then of sending to the 
home of a poor clergyman, just such a man in 
build as himself, an anonymous gift, a perfect 
wardrobe of clothing *'only worn long enough to 
be aired." 

The Squire had chuckled to himself over the 
pleasure he was about to bring into a struggling 
life, of the mysterious guesses as to where the 
things had come from, and he was feeling so 
supremely happy at the moment of passing his 
young lawyer's town office (the country one had 
been given up), that he thought he would look 
in just for a friendly *'How d'ye do?" even if by 



320 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

accident, as on a previous occasion, such a visit 
was booked for a six-and-eightpenny fee. 

*'Is Mr. Grant in, and disengaged?" the 
Squire said, cheerfully shaking hands with 
Drake, the confidential clerk, a genial habit he 
had wherever he went of bringing a little special 
brightness into business life. 

" Oh, haven't you heard, sir?" was the reply, 
spoken in awed tones. * * The poor young gentle- 
man was thrown from his horse in the hunting 
field yesterday morning, and was picked up 
dead. It is an awful blow to his widowed 
mother and young wife." 

And to me, too," said the Squire, to whom 
the news had brought a genuine shock. 

Why, he was my heir. Suppose you were 
in the secret ? " 

" Yes, sir ; he used to talk a great deal about 
it at times ; he built his hopes, I know, upon it, 
and quite looked forward to your — Excuse 
me, sir ; forgive my blunder ; we business men 
are too apt to make practical reflections." 

My death? Oh, do not apologise," said 
the Squire. " I daresay I should have put it 
that way myself if the case had been reversed. 
How are these widows left? There will be 
two of them to think about now." 

Well, sir, not so well off but they might be 
better," said the confidential clerk, feelingly. 

The Squire was not quite sure how far his 



AN INTERVIEW AT THE MANOR 32 1 

Statement was to be relied upon ; but on his 
return home he drew out two cheques for a 
thousand pounds each, and one for one hundred 
pounds, and the hearts of the two widows and 
one confidential clerk were, a day or two later, 
considerably gladdened in consequence. 

Meanwhile, on Sunday, the Squire thought 
incessantly during church time of a poor 
innocent man serving his time in a convict 
prison, who to-day was heir to a large property 
which in years to come would, he trusted, help 
him to find some consolation in life for all the 
troubles he had passed through. Strange how 
it altered everything ; but from the time of 
hearing of the young lawyer's death the Squire 
found an added pleasure in life. Aubrey Rice 
would follow him. As soon as his time was up, 
owing to that dastardly intrigue by which he, 
one of the noblest of men, had been called 
to suffer — the innocent instead of the guilty — 
he would send for him to the Manor House, and 
get him to stay with him from time to time, if 
not altogether, that he might get familiar with 
his methods of work. His dear wife — oh ! how 
grieved he was to have lost sight of her, but 
he had never been able to trace her address — 
she would share his pleasures. Well, three 
years of the seven had gone ; the other four 
would soon pass. In all these calculations the 
Rector, who would indirectly be interested in 
the matter, was entirely ignored. 



32 2 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Then, as he dwelt upon this all-absorbing 
subject, the Squire bethought him of a plan ; he 
would write to the governor of the convict 
prison and get him to let him pay Aubrey a 
visit. It would cheer his last miserable years 
there to know how matters stood. But the 
Squire had to bear a great disappointment. In 
answer to his letter to the prison, he received 
the information that during the August following 
his advent into prison, the previous October, 
No. 75 (Aubrey Rice) had managed to effect an 
escape, and despite every inquiry and most 
searching effort on the part of the police, 
nothing had been heard of him since. His 
conduct during his residence in prison had been 
most exemplary. His escape caused consider- 
able conjecture at the time as to the motive 
inducing him to run the risk to life and limb 
which the drop of thirty feet entailed — (his 
way of escape had been easily determined) — 
and so forth. 

" Ton my word, what complications," said the 
Squire ; " and there seems nothing to be done." 
Then, after deep and grave consideration upon 
the question, he thought one thing might at 
least be attempted ; he would write to Guy 
Manville, Aubreys best man at his wedding, 
and get him to come to the Manor House, and 
they could talk over some plan for unearthing 
the man in hiding. 



AN INTERVIEW AT THE MANOR 323 



'*The miserable part of it all is," said Guy, 
when in due course he arrived and matters were 
well talked over, ''that if we find poor Rice, it 
would only be to have the police down upon 
him while this dreadful forgery sentence hangs 
over his head." 

" True," admitted the Squire, "but for myself 
I should have no compunction in sheltering 
Aubrey Rice from any legal action. I am so 
convinced in my own mind of the poor fellow's 
innocence that, magistrate that I am — and I 
hope one strong enough to minister the law 
where it is needed — I would not lift up a little 
finger to bring that poor fellow to justice. 
Keep your eyes open in your East End visit- 
ing, Mr. Manville ; you may come across him 
in some out-of-the-way-place ! " 

"Do you really think so?" exclaimed Guy, 
joyfully. " I won't forget what you say. Poor 
Aubrey ! Poor Mrs. Rice ! I never knew a 
sadder case ! " 

" I did," said the Squire, quietly. 

" Whose was it ? " asked Guy. 

" I can give no names," said the Squire, "but 
it's the man who actually committed the forgery 
and then contrived to put the blame on some 
one else. That man's life must be hell to him, 
whereas Aubrey Rice's conscience will acquit 
him of any wrong-doing. God bless him ! 
Mark my word, his innocence will be estab- 
lished yet ! " 



CHAPTER XXIX 



WHERE HAD HE MET HIM BEFORE ? 

Guy Manville was away for two months that 
summer travelling on the Continent with his 
people, and as happy fortune would have it, 
meeting when mid-way in his holiday with 
Sister Dora, her father and mother, and the 
aunt from Berkeley Square. The families lost 
no time- in becoming intimate, and by a little 
readjustment of plans, mutually conceded, they 
kept together until their return to England 
early in September, by which time it was an 
open secret that Dora Thatchet and the future 
Lord Horrick were more to each other than 
friends. 

Judith's quick eye caught the announcement 
of the engagement in an evening paper which 
she was carefully scanning, hoping to find 
mention of her missing husband. Even should 
such mention chance to be an item of police 
news, Judith would have felt relieved, especially 
if it meant a few days' detention in prison, 
giving her an opportunity of being within reach 
when the release came. For the more she 
thought of Stanley's conduct since what she 

324 



WHERE HAD HE MET HIM BEFORE ? 325 

called the second volume of her married life 
had been opened and read, the more she was 
oppressed by the thoughts that he, not Aubrey 
Rice, had been guilty of forgery. And so 
terrible at times was this conviction that even 
her desire to find her lost husband became, in 
the very hope of its realisation, an anguish lest 
she should be running to earth a guilty man. 

Would her heart fail her in such a case, 
causing her to shelter the guilty while leaving 
the innocent to suffer ? Once she broke away 
from her search, completely overborne by the 
conviction that nothing would lead her to betray 
her husband, even if he made full confession to 
her of his crime. She went down to Michael- 
dean, ostensibly to look after her property there, 
but in reality to get rested and find restored 
balance for mind and nerves. It was while 
there that she saw the announcement of the 
engagement referred to, and feeling morally 
convinced that neither Miss Thatchet nor Mr. 
Manville would devote as much time in the 
future as in the past to their work in the East 
End, she felt constrained to return at once and 
continue the search. But her fortnight in the 
country had worked wonders. For the first few 
days she had slept incessantly, waking up only 
for her food; her homely landlady, knowing she 
had come down for the purpose of rest, did her 
best to contribute to it. The remainder of her 



326 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

so-called holiday she had spent chiefly in the 
open air, often in the harvest field, sometimes, 
towards evening, in long lonely walks in the 
forest. 

Once she had been startled by an apparition. 
A half-clothed man had rushed out upon her 
from the trees, dancing round her as he waved 
his arms, talking the while hurriedly and inco- 
herently, the summing-up of his intelligible words , 
being, "Yes, yes; no, no." It was only a 
moment, and men in pursuit had surrounded the 
poor lunatic and taken him away. She learnt 
afterwards that a devoted wife had sought to 
care for her mentally afflicted husband (his 
illness coming on by degrees) without allowing 
his removal to an asylum, with the result that 
in a short absence from the cottage on her part, 
he had made his escape, frightening one woman 
into a fit and actually inflicting bodily injury 
upon three or four children who, terror-struck, 
had got in his way. 

It was strange how this incident, by a 
sequence of thought, led Judith to the con- 
clusion that to attempt to protect her husband 
from the law, should he ever confess to her that 
his hand, not Aubrey Rice's, was responsible 
for the forged cheques, would be to tamper 
with the life happiness of the many while 
selfishly aiming to secure her own. She 
determined to strengthen her resolve for 



WHERE HAD HE MET HIM BEFORE ? 327 

definite action should the time ever come 
when it would be needed, by telling Mr. 
Manville and Sister Dora the story of her early 
married life. The incident of the ;^500 would 
be given naturally, and her dread lest it had 
not been rightly come by could be told ; she 
would take to herself all the blame ; indeed, but 
for her own contrition in having pressed for 
this money, the story might pass out of memory. 

Judith thought thus to prepare the minds of 
her friends for any future development of a 
discovery which in some way she believed 
possible, if not probable, as associated with the 
finding of her husband. She had at various 
times already referred to her unfortunate 
marriage, and her subsequent going abroad 
with her mother, giving to her later deep 
religious convictions the desire to give herself 
utterly to the salvation of her husband. 

But before she had an opportunity of carrying 
this determination into effect as it concerned 
fuller detail and reference to the ;^5oo, some- 
thing happened. It was late in October. Sister 
Dora and Mr. Manville were back at their 
work in the East End ; they spent much of 
their time as before in visiting the lodging- 
houses with which the neighbourhood of 
Ratcliffe Highway abounds. Judith had found 
her own special work in visiting the crippled 
and aged in the streets and courts teeming with 



328 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

human life on the Mile End side of Stepney 
Green. To her the People's Palace was in a 
sense a landmark, a centre point towards which 
all her thoughts gravitated. 

Sister Dora was very popular in the lodging- 
houses chiefly, but not exclusively, occupied by 
women. Guy Manville was accounted ''a fel- 
low who meant no harm " in those absolutely 
given up to ''men only." 

One evening, having walked down to their 
scene of labour together, and arranging to meet 
at a given hour at Medland Hall — a mission 
station just at that time beginning to be known — 
Guy and his fiancee parted for their respective 
duties — Dora to find her way into the lodging- 
house kitchens (where she was always sure of a 
welcome) to sing hymns to the poor, miserable- 
looking creatures there, in her sweet soprano 
voice, which won its way into all hearts, talking 
between whiles in homely fashion of God's gifts 
to everybody — air and light, His sunshine and 
flowers, the love evinced. His desire to be the 
home of our spirits, and His tender pity for the 
sad and unfortunate. ''He willeth not that 
any should perish," Sister Dora would say, 
pathetically, "so, dear women, cheer up, hope 
for better days, and when the right thing to 
be done faces you, do it." 

" Ain't it beautiful ? " one old dame had said 
on one such occasion, shambling out of her seat 



WHERE HAD HE MET HIM BEFORE ? 329 

as she spoke and sidling up to Sister Dora. 
" My dear," she added, with trembling voice, 

I used to know all about those things once. 
I was a buxom lassie then. My father was 
parish clerk and gravedigger in a country 
village ; and I wore nice clothes and went to 
church as regular as Sunday came along ; and 
I could look the gentry in the face and know 
my soul was as much to God above as theirs. 
I had no secrets in those days. But — ah ! well, 
it's the old story. The Squire's son came along 
our way once too often, and. . . . poor 
fellow, how was he to know what ruin and 
desolation lay for me beyond the lovely garden 
of romance in which he bid me walk . . . 
Yes, it's a goodish bit ago — say fifty years and 
odd ; but your sweet words are like the smell 
of new-mown hay to me, and country posies 
gathered in May-time ; and it takes my thoughts 
back to those days of innocence. Do you think 
he would have protected my innocence could he 
see me now and know what the years between 
have brought ? / don't. Man's a short-sighted 
creature at his best. Ah ! ah ! and his memory 
is made to match ! " And the old woman shook 
her hand in the air and stumbled back to her 
seat, mumbling. 

(It will interest the reader to know that this 
poor creature eventually became an inmate, 
thanks to Dora Thatchet's influence, of one of 

Y 



330 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Squire Butler- Edgcombes alms houses, and 
ended her days amid the fragrance of country 
flowers and that peace which is the Father s 
gift to the penitent.) 

Guy's steps that night had taken him to 
a men's lodging-house where three hundred 
and forty-five beds were licensed to exist. It 
was only in the evening that the men were to be 
seen, and then the general kitchen literally 
swarmed with human beings. Many had re- 
turned from an honest day's work ixi the Docks, 
others had sauntered in from dishonest idleness, 
preferring **to get along somehow " — as helped 
by the generosity of the more industrious, 
notably their lodging-house "pals" so ready to 
share a meal with the poor wretch who had 
none — to making the effort to stick to employ- 
ment, even if found for the m. 

Added to these were a few chronics," men 
upon whom death had already set its mark, con- 
sumptives for the most part who subsisted 
chiefly upon the odd shillings and pence (for- 
warded to them week by week through the post 
by relatives glad to be rid of them, or friends 
who had known them in better days) and the 
occasionally-shared meal of a fellow-lodger. 

Guy was watching one of these that night, 
younger by some years than the others, and 
with a face which struck him as familiar. 
Where had he seen it before? Surely not at 



WHERE HAD HE MET HIM BEFORE ? 33 I 

one of the other lodging-houses? There were 
associations with that face that were painful. 
But what were they? Would memory recall 
them? 

The one in question noticed he was under 
observation, and shifted his seat back, directing 
his attention very closely to a letter he took 
from his pocket. 

Guy moved so as to be nearer, and in so 
doing it was quite impossible not to see the 
handwriting of the letter, with the contents 
of which the poor fellow was so apparently 
absorbed. 

The handwriting was surely Judith's. Guy 
had seen hers more than once, as letters 
had passed between Mrs. S. Pritchard and Dora 
Thatchet. It was unusually large and sprawl- 
ing, a great contradiction to the compact little 
figure of the writer. Then it dawned upon 
him that this would be the long-lost husband 
for whom they had made such vigorous search 
for the last ten months. Still, that fact did not 
explain why his face seemed so familiar. He 
had never seen a portrait of him ; and the 
wife's descriptions, though vivid up to a point, 
did not actually give the tout ensemble which 
struck him at the moment. 

Where have I met you before ?" said Guy, 
sitting down beside the man whose identity 
was at that moment such a puzzle to him. If 
I mistake not, you know me ? " 



332 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

"You were in the court when I gave evidence 
in a forgery case about four years ago ; you were 
sitting near the judge. I remember your face 
well," was the reply, but even as he spoke the 
rapid breathing of the consumptive heralded in 
a fit of coughing which completely exhausted 
the sufferer. 

When he had somewhat recovered, Guy drew 
him aside to the lower end of the kitchen where 
a number of men were quietly sitting, some 
reading their newspapers, while sets of two and 
three were playing draughts and dominoes. It 
was much quieter here, and talking could go on 
undisturbed. 

''Oh, yes," said Guy, making a broad 
venture, "you are Stanley Pritchard; I remem- 
ber now. I was wondering where I had seen 
your face before." As a matter of fact, Guy had 
no distinct memory of the names of those who 
witnessed for the prosecution; it was Judith's 
letter which supplied the clue upon which he 
based this venture. 

" I am known as Simon Perkins here," said 
the man, in lowered tones. " When a fellow's 
down on his luck, as I am," he continued, " it's 
only natural to wish to hide your identity." 

"How comes it you are in — such different 
circumstances from those you were in the day I 
saw you?" inquired Guy. By a strong effort 
he kept back all display of pleasure or satisfac- 
tion which this conversation was bringing him. 



WHERE HAD HE MET HIM BEFORE ? 333 

" An extravagant wife ; a perfect little 
wretch, with her giddy, drinking ways ! " 
exclaimed Stanley, lifting his eyes as if in 
mute horror. 

" And she died, I suppose ? " said Guy, 
wondering if this wife could have been one 
prior to the advent of the Judith Pritchard 
he knew. 

" Not a bit of it ; she's living, sure enough," 
said Stanley, with a sneer; "these kind of 
wives always do live on ; it would be better for 
some of us if they didntr 

Guy thought of Judith, and groaned inwardly. 
Was this the man she was giving her life to 
save ? 

Where is she now ? " said Guy, a certain 
display of sympathy in his tones. For even 
an imaginary evil to those gifted with imagina- 
tion is quick to excite responsive feeling. 

" Goodness knows," said Stanley. She 
went off to America with some one just about 
the time I was giving witness at that trial. 
She got tired of that, and turned up again in 
England. I met her by chance in Drury Lane 
one morning, and she hadn't the good grace to 
get out of my way, but actually dared to 
address me just the same as if things hadn't 
happened. These are the women that would 
ruin any man. I lost my employment through 
her ; and not the first time either. I was 



334 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



refused a reference because I ventured to 
question my employer's justice in dismissing 
me, and — " 

Let me see ; you were at Catchpool 
Brothers, I think?" said Guy, fixing his eye 
upon Stanley. 

**Yes, I was there once; that's how I came to 
know that rascal Aubrey Rice." 

Guy jumped up from his seat. Up to this 
moment it had never entered his head to 
associate the crime of which he knew some 
unknown person had been guilty, leading to an 
innocent man's conviction, with the witness who 
at the trial had given such damnatory evidence. 
Now it came to him as a sudden revelation, 
Aubrey Rice was suffering the penalty of 
Stanley Pritchard's wrongdoing. Perhaps he 
could never have arrived so promptly at this 
conclusion but for Pritchard's disgraceful fabri- 
cations about his wife, for Guy was familiar 
with the outlined history of her married life 
and of her sojourn abroad with her mother, 
whom she had left with relatives when returning 
to England. 

*^Now, look here, Pritchard or Perkins, or by 
whatever name you choose to call yourself. I 
want to ask your candid opinion about that 
forgery ; you don't believe in your heart that 
Aubrey Rice committed it?" 

"I know he didn't," replied Stanley, bluntly, 
quite thrown off his guard. 



WHERE HAD HE MET HIM BEFORE ? 335 

**And this in the face of your evidence that 
day?" said Guy, still keeping his eye fixed upon 
him. 

**I was mistaken, deluded I might say; but I 
had my suspicions some while after, and I've 
since pretty well confirmed them ; indeed, I may 
say I'm sure I have." 

And you have let things go on and never 
gone to a magistrate and asked him to see to 
the release of an innocent man ? " said Guy, 
speaking in tones which sounded almost fierce 
in their wrath. 

" Here, let us come out if we must talk 
private affairs," said Stanley, uncomfortably; 
he had noticed a man listening to the conversa- 
tion, who at that moment edged up a little 
nearer to them, though still purporting to be 
reading a book ; and so saying he made for the 
door. As he got out into the open air his 
cough again became troublesome, and Guy 
realised for the first time what a wreck the poor 
fellow was. His face was the best part of him ; 
his hands were without flesh, and his limbs 
generally long and thin, added to which his 
figure, about which his clothes hung loosely, 
had the stoop of the consumptive. He looked 
a man prematurely old. 

As he stood coughing in the street, Guy was 
roused to wonder if it would not be best there 
and then to take him to the Poplar Sick Asylum. 



33^ THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

He was in the habit of getting men in, and 
knew how to proceed, but he was loth to let 
him out of his sight until he had gained from 
him all the information he could. At whatever 
cost, Aubrey Rice must be cleared. 

Then Guy hit upon a bold expedient. He 
knew this was a chance not to be lost. He 
would take him off to Bromley Street. The lay 
missionary worker would give up her sitting- 
room to them. Judith Pritchard would be out ; 
she seldom reached home before ten, staying 
always to watch the men leave the People s 
Palace. 

"If you will come with me I can borrow a 
friend's room, and we can have our little talk 
together undisturbed. Here, youngster," he 
continued, speaking to a street Arab, a lad of 
13 or 14, ''run as fast as you can to the nearest 
cab stand, and fetch me a hansom ; you can 
drive back in it, and I'll give you sixpence, and 
tell cabby he may expect a double fare for the 
honour of carrying you. We shall walk on 
towards Stepney Station, taking first turning to 
our left." 

Right you are, sir," exclaimed the lad, dis- 
appearing in the darkness of the ill-lighted 
street, and returning in an inconceivably short 
time sitting on the floor of the cab, his legs 
accommodating themselves to the very limited 
space. 



WHERE HAD HE MET HIM BEFORE? 2)2)7 

" Picked him up on the way, sir," said the 
boy before Guy could put the question, How 
comes it you are back so soon ? " Then he 
added, grinning from ear to ear, Half-price to 
cabby, sir, seeing as how he wouldn't give me a 
decent seat on the velvet cushions!" 

Helping Stanley into the hansom, Guy put 
sixpence into the lad's hand, taking leave of 
him with a word of praise for his quickness, 
gave the coachman the number to which to 
drive in Bromley Street, and leant back in 
silence, thinking it a pity to continue the very 
interesting conversation until the house was 
reached and freedom from interruption could 
be secured, 

I should think you could do with a great- 
coat these cold nights," Guy said, looking 
compassionately at his companion. 

'4 had to part with mine a few weeks back," 
was the reply. I sold it to the Deputy; he's an 
awful nice chap, not at all hard on one about 
payments. Of course he knows an honest man 
when he sees him!" 

*'Of course," said Guy, and he wondered how 
long Stanley Pritchard would have the audacity 
to pose as such after they had had their inter- 
view together. 

Ten minutes later and Guy and Stanley sat 
face to face in Judith's sitting-room. The 
former had begged a cup of cocoa for his sick 



338 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

friend, and, following the lay missionary into the 
back sitting-room, he had asked her if she would 
be good enough to meet Miss Thatchet at 
Medland Hall at nine and see her safely to 
him? **Tell her she can come in on arriving 
here ; she will be as much interested in the case 
as I am." And upon this Guy returned to the 
room in which he had left Stanley. The cocoa 
quickly followed, being eagerly taken by the 
one for whom it was intended. 

And now tell me," Guy said, as he took his 
seat opposite to his visitor, '* how came you to 
suspect Aubrey Rice to be innocent and not at 
once state the case to a magistrate ? " 

Oh, well, I don't say I was ready to swear 
it in a court of justice. It might, after all, you 
see, only be a mistake, like it was in the first 
instance. But of one thing I am quite sure, 
Aubrey Rice never did commit forgery ; and 
if it's my dying breath, I'd like to repeat it to 
clear his name. He deserves it." 

" Still, if it's only surmise on your part, what 
is the use of stirring up the matter?" said Guy, 
speaking cautiously. The cough interrupted 
the reply ; how much of it was forced was open 
to question. 

Come," said Guy, gently, "seeing you are, 
I fear, a dying man, why not clear your mind 
and speak out plainly what you really mean ? 
You have admitted that some one other than 



WHERE HAD HE MET HIM BEFORE? 339 

Aubrey Rice signed those cheques. Why not 
go a step further and say who it was ? " 

He's dead, the man I'm thinking of," said 
Stanley, looking at Guy Manville for a moment, 
then turning suddenly away. 

What was his name ? " asked Guy, and he 
tried to keep out of his voice the irritation he 
felt. This patience-trying interview might drag- 
on for hours in this way. 

I tell you Tm not prepared to give it," said 
Stanley Pritchard, doggedly. I don't see why 
you should take up a chance remark of mine 
like you have done, and worry me with ques- 
tions I never intend answering. I'll go home, 
and don't you interfere with me again ! " and he 
rose from his chair angrily. 

This was too terrible. Guy moved quickly, 
and, planting his back to the door, said, I 
shall not let you go until you have given 
me a connected history of this painful case. 
Remember, I was at the trial, and am prepared 
to say my poor friend, Aubrey Rice, was con- 
demned upon your evidence." 

Your friend? Do you know him, really 
know him ? " said Stanley, suddenly growing 
excited. Oh, poor fellow, but I'm awfully 
sorry I helped to land him in trouble. I never 
should have done it but for that fiend of a wife 
of mine. She worked on me for monies which 
— which I could not find, and — " 



340 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

''And what?" said Guy, severely, almost 
fiercely. This was a man who evidently had 
to be kept up to his duty ; fitful, vacillating, 
changeable, he blew hot and cold in a moment, 
and a resolution made this minute was broken 
the next. How hopeless to get any satisfac- 
tory statements from him ! 

Just then Guy heard the latch-key opening 
the street door. He looked at his watch. It 
was barely nine o'clock. It could not be the 
lay-missionary and Dora. There was only 
one other it could be. The return of Judith 
Pritchard at this hour was the last thing he 
should have thought about. It had never 
entered into his calculations. For the moment 
he was in great agitation. How could he 
leave Pritchard even for a second? In his 
present mood might he not do all sorts of 
desperate things ? How could his wife bear 
the shock of seeing him, without a word of 
warning, ensconsed in her own arm-chair and 
occupying her sitting-room ? 

Even while questioning himself, there was 
some one trying to enter the room. He moved 
away from the door so as to make it possible to 
open it, and, in so doing, made way for Judith 
Pritchard to pass in. 



CHAPTER XXX 



STANLEY PRITCHARD's CONFESSION 

I BEG your pardon, Mr. Manville ; I thought 
to find Miss M'Gregor here." 

Mrs. Pritchard had withdrawn the moment 
she perceived Guy to be occupied with a visitor, 
and when she spoke she was standing just out- 
side the door. 

Please, come in," said Guy Manville, 
earnestly, by some strange impulse led to do 
what he thought must bring matters to a climax, 
quite regardless of the after consequences. 
" This fellow here knew my friend Aubrey 
Rice ; he goes by the name of Simon Perkins, 
but his own people call him, I expect, Stanley 
Pritchard ; he says he had a bad wife, a regular 
fiend, so he tells me." 

Guy spoke thus to show his visitor up in his 
true light before his wife, when recognising him, 
could make any affectionate advances. By this 
time she had stepped into the room, and her 
glance was fixed upon the one spoken of 

I think he is only joking with you, Mr. 
Manville," she said, quietly. Her breath came 
quickly, and her chest was heaving, otherwise 

341 



342 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

she maintained a perfectly calm exterior. He 
had started at the sound of her voice, looking 
up with dismay and awe, then relapsing into his 
previous attitude. 

Speak to him, Mrs. Pritchard," said Guy, 
already greatly relieved to find she was equal to 
the occasion. Some women, he knew, would 
have fainted or gone off into hysterics. 

And Judith advanced still further into the 
room. 

''How are you, Stanley?" she said, putting 
out her hand, which, however, he did not 
attempt to take. '* Poor dear," she continued, 
sympathetically, '* but you do look ill ! Oh, 
why did you stay away so long ? Why did 
you not come home to be nursed ? " 

''Judith," said Stanley, looking up with a 
furtive glance, "I've been telling a lot of lies 
to this gentleman about you. You'll hate me 
when you hear the cruel things I've said — not 
a grain of truth in them. Say you despise 
me, as you used to do in the old days before 
our legal separation ! " 

" But you forget the new days," said Judith, 
going nearer and putting her hand on Stanley's 
bowed head, " when I confessed my own share 
of the troubled past, and asked you to forgive 
and forget ? Don't you remember, Stanley, 
everything had grown to be so different to me 
because — because — " 



STANLEY PRITCHARD's CONFESSION 343 

Judith's voice grew very agitated here, but 
after a moment's pause she went on. 

Because I had become a disciple of Christ's, 
and He gave me love for hate, and patience 
and hope in place of despising and scorn. 
Stanley, you remember how we started life 
again at Michaeldean, and how happy we were 
until — " 

" Until I got drunk — out with it, Judith," said 
Stanley, bending his forehead on his hands, and 
so throwing his face in complete shadow. 

Oh, I mean long after that, dear ; that was 
forgiven and forgotten and you made another 
start, and we were so happy — " 

" Until I bolted with the money," interrupted 
Stanley. Then, lifting himself up, he said ex- 
citedly, *'Tell me, Judith, are the police after 
me ? Two hundred pounds is enough to give 
a man a fair taste of penal service ! " 

Oh, that was all settled just as soon as I 
could get my money free," exclaimed Judith, 
brightly. " I paid every penny of it before you 
had been away three weeks, and then I came 
to London to seek you, and I have sought and 
sought ever since, and still my love is not tired 
out ; and now, dear, God has brought you to 
me, and in my heart I thank Him. But, 
Stanley dear, I have a question to ask you 
which has been burning in my mind for months 
and months. You are the only person in the 



344 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

whole wide world who can tell me. Is not Mr. 
Aubrey Rice innocent of the charge of forgery- 
brought against him five long years ago ? 

Speak, Stanley," she urged, as no answer 
came ; then, stooping down so as to look into 
the face of the man she addressed, she saw it 
was wet with tears. 

Yes, Judith, Rice is innocent, worse luck for 
the guilty," Stanley Pritchard said at length. 

Name the guilty man, Stanley ! " she con- 
tinued in the same measured and authoritative 
tones. Remember," she added, **to know 
this I came to England years ago. I had my 
suspicions then ; they have been strengthened 
since. Will you name the forger, or shall I ? " 

As you seem to know all about it, you had 
better tell this gentleman here, Mr. Rice's 
friend, the whole story," Stanley said, doggedly. 

" You mean," continued Judith, about my 
mother s freehold which you sold for her benefit 
you said, but you gambled away the money and 
so robbed her of all ? " 

Stanley nodded his head in assent. 

Then we were very unhappy, and we were 
always quarrelling, and we got a legal separ- 
ation on the ground of incompatibility of 
temper. Are you thinking of that ? " 

Go on ; tell it all while you're about it," 
Stanley said, this time burying his face in his 
hands. 



STANLEY PRITCHARd's CONFESSION 345 

You went your way, and I mine," continued 
Judith. My way took me to Guildford Street, 
Bloomsbury, with my mother, where we heard 
of you in various ways, and — and usually the 
hearing was full of sadness and pain." 

"You didn't care a bit, Judith; you know 
you didn't," Stanley exclaimed, but his voice 
sounded muffled and hoarse. 

I cared a good deal, for I loved you all the 
while devotedly," replied Judith, and for the 
first time her voice trembled with emotion. 
Then she sighed, and continued — You allowed 
me a pound a week, which came through my 
lawyer. I sent for you one July and made you 
an offer. Your payments should cease, and I 
would never ask you again to contribute to my 
support if you repaid my mother the money 
which was hers, namely, four hundred and 
seventy-five pounds, bringing the sum up in 
round figures to five hundred pounds. I sug- 
gested for you to insure your life and borrow 
this sum, paying back the one pound weekly to 
the source from which you drew the sum I 
asked. You agreed to this, and late in Sep- 
tember you brought me two hundred and thirty 
pounds in gold, and early in October two 
hundred and sixty-five pounds in gold, the five 
pound slacking of the five hundred pounds you 
said it had cost you in expenses. Is that 

z 



34^ THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

correct ? And isn't that the exact sum of those 
two forged cheques ? " 
Stanley nodded his head. 
My mother and I left Southampton on the 
4th of October ; you saw us off ; we parted 
friends. I wrote twice from America, but 
received no answer to my letters. Then I 
chanced, quite two years afterwards, in unwrap- 
ping a parcel which had followed us from 
England the Christmas of our going out, and 
been put aside (the newspaper at least, with one 
or two things contained in the parcel, had been 
put away) — I chanced to read the forgery case, 
and saw with terrible anguish of spirit that, 
chiefly upon the evidence of one Stanley 
Pritchard, one, whose name I had never heard 
before, Mr. Aubrey Rice, had been sent to 
penal servitude for seven years ! I lost no time 
in coming to England to find you, and heard 
from your own lips that — that you were not 
mixed up in the wrong done. I expected to 
find you at Catchpool Brothers ; you had been 
dismissed (I heard this from the senior partner 
of the Firm) for irregularities he would prefer 
not to go into. But after endless days, devoted 
to fruitless search, I found you, met you in Drury 
Lane, put the question to you, and you assured 
me every penny of the money brought to me 
had been honourably borrowed — is that not all 
true to fact 



STANLEY PRITCHARD's CONFESSION 347 



''Quite true; go on," said Stanley, glancing 
up at that moment to note that Guy Manville 
was still where he had stood when Judith 
entered. 

Now, listen carefully, Stanley," said Judith, 
impressively. " What you told me as we 
walked from Drury Lane to the Strand was — 
a hideous lie. Confess, now, it was your hand, 
not Mr. Aubrey Rice's, which signed those 
cheques ! It was you, Stanley, wAo committed 
forgery for which an innocent man was made 
to suffer ! " 

As Judith paused, her husband lifted his face 
from his hands. The flickering light of the 
little lamp standing on the table near played 
about his ashen brow, upon which huge beads 
of perspiration gathered. His bloodshot eyes 
glanced up with piteous pleading into the 
face of the little woman, who had told her story 
from beginning to end in a voice subdued and 
tender, with deep feeling. His lips trembled 
visibly. He tried to frame some words, but for 
fully two minutes no sound came. Then all at 
once, and so loud as to be most startling, 
Stanley said — 

It's true, all true. I forged those cheques, 
and made the strokes in Rice's blotting case 
which brought the dastardly deed home to him- 
self." Then, continuing hurriedly in lowered 
tones, he said, I managed the little job very 



348 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

comfortably, borrowing his latch-key, and, as I 
thought, taking the time when his old mother 
was up to her mad tricks at the station, and the 
old servant doing her marketing ; but, worse 
luck, the old mother was not out, it seemed, for 
when I was busy with my dastardly work, she 
gave me a fright by opening the door between 
Rice s room and hers, and looking at me in 
terror. She told me to *go away/ and threw 
a brush she had held in her hand at me. It 
gave me the blues afterwards to think she had 
gone suddenly sane, and would recognise me, 
so I went to the station where she waited for 
the trains, and passed her on the platform, and 
she stared hard, but nothing came of it. So 
there now, you've got the whole story. I sup- 
pose ril get my seven years or more for this 
night s work, but I'm ready ; it's been torture to 
hold the secret, and poor Rice's ghost haunts 
me ! " and as if the effort of making this confes- 
sion had exhausted every bit of strength which 
he possessed, Stanley glided from his chair on 
to the ground in a dead swoon. 

Judith bent over him, her tears falling thickly 
upon the unconscious form. As she slipped 
her arm beneath his head, she looked up into 
Guy s face. 

" Lose no time, Mr. Manville ; you must get 
a lawyer here. What my poor husband has 
just confessed must be taken down. You will 
find one in Albert Square. Go, please ! " 



STANLEY PRITCHARd's CONFESSION 349 

And Guy went at once, like one in a dream. 
He met Dora Thatchet coming home, having 
been detained, under the lay-missionary's care, 
and claimed her to go with him in search of a 
lawyer. 

So much has happened, darling," he said, 
tenderly, as he placed her hand within his arm, 
I feel I must tell you all before you see Mrs. 
Pritchard again. Oh, Dora, Aubrey Rice's 
innocence is about to be established. To- 
morrow we will set the various agencies to 
work, and advertise right and left for the poor 
fellow. And to think that our little friend, 
Judith Pritchard, has formed the missing link in 
this story." 

Meanwhile Stanley had recovered conscious- 
ness, and to his confession added details which 
were of the most painful interest to Judith. 
His godfather had been a myth. The cheques 
which he had shown her to support his cruel 
falsehood were in connection with payments 
made to him in reference to gambling. He had 
at times been strangely fortunate, but, losing 
heavily about the time of his dismissal from 
Catchpool Brothers, he had fled, owing money 
to several. He had gone to the senior partner s 
private house when in a condition of intoxi- 
cation, behaving in a way which had promptly 
severed his connection with the Firm. 

Oh ! my poor Judith," he said, as he laid his 



350 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

head on her shoulder and sobbed, 'the way of 
transgressors is hard.' I learnt that text when 
I was a boy, and I've never forgotten it — never 
forgotten it. I'm not the only fool who has 
thrown away his life, and the worse part of it 
all is, I'm not even decently sorry for having 
done so." 



CHAPTER XXXI 



NEWS FOR THE RECTOR 

The Squire was surprised by a telegram from 
Guy Manville — Important news, coming down 
by evening express." 

" Delightful," he exclaimed, in his pleasure, 
addressing himself to the servant who, having 
brought the telegram, was waiting to see if 
there were any reply. 

''No, Jinks, no answer required; but send 
Mrs. Perks up to me ; we must give Mr. 
Manville a warm welcome." 

And the servant disappeared with a smiling 
face. 

The genial Squire had a way of his own in 
creating constant sunshine, lighting up common- 
place humdrum lives until they in their turn 
shed pleasant brightness around them, never 
quite understanding how it chanced to happen 
that such mere nothings as a smile here or a 
word of praise there somehow put every one 
in such a good temper. 

The world is certainly the gainer by the 
presence of such men as Squire Butler- Edg- 
combe in the universe. If he had one gift 

351 



352 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



more than another, it was ennobling and beau- 
tifying the commonplace. Asked once for his 
definition of tact, his reply had been — Well, 
my idea of tact is dotting life's ' is,' crossing 
life's 't's,' and putting its full stops in the right 
place." 

Only a man in the possession of an abundance 
of tact could have given such a definition. 

The marvel was how the Squire kept so 
uniformly cheerful and happy living as he did, 
since his wife's death, alone. Possibly the 
fact of his usually solitary existence gave great 
zest to the anticipated pleasure of a visit from 
Guy Manville. All that day the good man 
upon whose brow but few years had perceptibly 
gathered since we first made his acquaintance, 
looked forward with the eagerness of a child for 
the evening hour which was to bring him his 
visitor, and when Guy Manville was actually in 
the house the Master of the Manor became "as 
merrie as a cricket." 

Guy waited for the butler to withdraw after 
dinner before plunging into the subject upper- 
most in his mind. He had come, in pre- 
ference to writing, to tell the Squire of the find- 
ing of Stanley Pritchard and of his confession 
about the forgery. Very graphically he de- 
scribed every detail. From that hour Judith, 
of whom the Squire had never heard before, 
became a living member in his household of 



NEWS FOR THE RECTOR 



353 



friends. ** I must know that plucky little 
woman ! " he had exclaimed, appreciatively. 

She and that scamp of a husband of hers had 
better be my guests for a week." 

But I have not finished my story, Squire," 
said Guy, continuing. **The scamp of a 
husband is no longer living. We had him 
moved to a comfortable lodging higher up the 
street in which we had the interview, and we 
sent for a doctor, who said from the first he 
could not last many days. He died on the 
third night after that strange interview in which 
I got the lawyer to take down his deposition. 
I have sent it up to the Home Secretary, and 
am expecting daily to hear from him. Mean- 
while I have been to Scotland Yard and em- 
ployed a private detective, and there are 
advertisements in papers of every description ! " 

''Offer a reward of ^loo to any one giving 
information," said the Squire, with energy. " I 
will gladly be responsible for that sum ; and, 
mark you, Mr. Manville, as soon as he is found 
he and his wife must make their home here. I 
said once before I should want him to be with 
me from time to time, but now I shall want it 
for always. It will be something for the Rector 
yonder to think about that his banished son- 
in-law is to be the future Squire of this neigh- 
bourhood, and have the gift of the parish living 
in his own hands ! " 



354 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



Far on into the night Guy and the Squire 
discussed plans about Aubrey, and when imme- 
diately after breakfast the next morning the 
two parted, it was with a promise on Mr. Man- 
ville's part that before long he would bring 
Dora Thatchet down one Saturday to lunch. 

As Guy was passing the Rectory, he saw 
Mr. Hastings in his garden. Stopping the 
carriage, he got out and went to him. 

" I expect you will not recognise me, Mr. 
Hastings, after all these years," he said, extend- 
ing his hand, but you remember my father^ 
Lord Horrick ? I am Guy, his second son ; 
unfortunately my elder brother died the summer 
before last." 

Come in, come in ; delighted to see you," 
the Rector said, warmly. But Guy explained 
that he was hurrying to catch an express train 
up to town. 

What has brought you this way ? " inquired 
the Rector. 

I went down to see the Squire on busines," 
said Guy, adding confidentially, the fact is, my 
dear friend Aubrey Rice is cleared from that 
cruel charge which landed him in prison some 
five years ago. The real culprit has made a 
confession, which now lies before the Home 
Secretary." 

*'You don't say so ; very interesting, I am 
sure," said Mr. Hastings, haughtily, to some 



NEWS FOR THE RECTOR 



355 



people at least ; but, for myself, the young man 
has long since disappeared from my hemisphere. 
He acted so contrary to my advice and wishes, 
and dragged my unfortunate daughter down 
with him ; these things are beyond forgiveness, 
Mr. Manville — beyond forgiveness ! " 

Ah, I see you have not yet measured the 
worth of a man like Aubrey Rice," said Guy, 
unmoved. "I can only say, in spite of his 
misfortunes, I should be proud to think he had 
married a sister of mine. He is still young ; 
and in God's good time we shall yet see him 
occupying an important position in life. I hear 
that in the future, how near or distant, of 
course, we cannot tell, this living will be in his 

gift-" 

This living ! " exclaimed the Rector, 
drawing himself up as if to challenge the 
repetition of such a gross misstatement, and 
his lip curled visibly. 

You forget," said Guy, laughing, how 
this must come about. Perhaps you have not 
heard that Aubrey Rice is the Squire's pro- 
spective heir ? " 

The news was like a thunderbolt to the 
Rector. Guy had raised his hat and taken 
his seat in the carriage and driven off before 
he had in any way recovered from the first 
shock of it. 

On reaching town Guy lost no time in 



35^ THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

writing to tell the Squire what he had done. 

I am sure you will forgive me discussing your 
affairs with Mr. Hastings," said he; ''but it 
was a tempting opportunity in which to give 
poor Aubrey a better standing in the eyes of 
his father-in-law." 

A day or two later and every paper in the 
land had, it seemed, a paragraph affecting the 
wonderful story of an innocent man cleared. 
The announcement of the Home Secretary that 
her Majesty had been pleased to grant Aubrey 
Rice a free pardon was quickly followed by the 
story of Stanley Pritchard's confession, and in 
many cases the newspapers, in linking these 
two important facts together, gave for the 
benefit of their readers an outline of the trial, 
in which the overwhelming "circumstantial 
evidence " had led a British jury to condemn an 
innocent man. 

For some time after these newspaper para- 
graphs had appeared, Guy Manville watched 
with keen expectation the arrival of every post. 
His own name had been linked with the story — 
''a gentleman visitor in the East-End lodging- 
houses, the discoverer of Stanley Pritchard, the 
forger," and so forth, what more natural than 
for Aubrey Rice to communicate with himself? 

But he waited in vain. Positively nothing 
happened — nothing suggestive of a clue to the 
discovery of his old friend. One day a caller 



NEWS FOR THE RECTOR 



357 



was announced ; a card was presented bearing- 
a name quite unknown to him, but when his 
eye caught the words, **a representative of 
Messrs. Catchpool Brothers," he hastened, 
almost gleefully, into the room where his visitor 
awaited him, for the moment impressed by the 
conviction that he could only come as the 
bearer of news about Aubrey. Great was his 
disappointment to find that the one seeking the 
interview was as anxious for news of the 
missing man as he was himself 

It is my privilege and pleasure to wait upon 
you, sir," said the gentleman in question, ''to 
express on behalf of my Firm the extreme regret 
at the action taken by themselves in reference 
to the prosecution of Mr. Aubrey Rice at the 
painful trial for forgery which took place some 
five years ago. It is our intention to offer the 
humblest apology to Mr. Rice when we see him 
— when, I should say, he comes out from his 
retreat, and takes again his place in society. If 
we can do this publicly we shall be all the better 
pleased. To offer compensation for the wrong 
we unconsciously did him at that painful time 
would be to add insult to injury ; but if he will 
allow us as a Firm to hand him over a sum of five 
thousand pounds as a token of our regard, and 
in expression of our regret for the trouble we 
caused him, we shall be honoured in the 
acceptance. Later, if Mr. Rice would care to 



358 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

associate himself again with our Firm we will 
make suitable room for him. We shall consider 
his wishes in the matter our commands. If we 
could say more we would, so cruelly do we feel 
the act of injustice dealt by ourselves ! " 

Guy Manville was more than touched by this 
earnest avowal, although he smiled to himself 
as he wondered what the Squire would say to 
the suggestion that Aubrey should devote his 
future to a business which had indirectly been 
the cause of all his misfortunes. 

Having spoken thus on behalf of the Firm of 
Catchpool Brothers, the representative, who was 
no other than Mr. Everet-Arnold himself, led 
on by the great interest displayed by Mr. 
Manville, spoke in detail of Mr. Rice's residence 
with the Firm, owning with real grief how, for 
the time being, he personally had utterly mis- 
understood him, suffering himself to be unduly 
prejudiced by the one of all others, as events 
had turned out, unworthy of trust. 

At the close of the interview Guy Manville 
promised to communicate with the Firm at the 
earliest possible opportunity after his friend had 
returned to them. 

That he would return sooner or later Guy 
never doubted. But as time went on and no 
news came, he steadily set his brain to devise 
plans which should mean the closest possible 
search. But in spite of all the machinery which 



NEWS FOR THE RECTOR 



359 



was set working in this direction, the weeks and 
months glided by and no clue was found to lead 
to the discovery of Aubrey Rice and his wife. 

North, south, east, and west, Guy Manville 
searched the slums of the metropolis. That the 
two were in hiding, and cut off from intercourse 
with the world generally, was all too evident, or 
why the silence after all the publicity which had 
^ been given to the case ? Possibly this view of 
the matter was due to Stanley Pritchard's story 
about seeing Aubrey. He had given details to 
Judith, during the few days in which he lived 
after he had been placed in the lodgings in 
Bromley Street, Stepney, of the chase he had 
had after the man addressing envelopes. He 
was absolutely positive this man was no other 
than Aubrey Rice. Hence Guy Manville 
somewhat readily fell into the belief that 
possibly now, as then, Aubrey would be in 
I somewhat straitened and needy circum- 
F stances ; indeed, might they not be more 
straitened and needy because longer time 
had elapsed ? Alas ! who can measure or 
define the limits of poverty when the drift 
downwards has actually set in, and who could 
venture to predict where exactly such drifting 
is likely to end ! 

After a while Guy was joined in his peregrin- 
ations through the lower quarters of the city 
by one of his college friends, who, with means 



360 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

and leisure at his disposal, although not claim- 
ing Manville s Christian principle and purpose, 
"had a mind" to see for himself something 
of the ''submerged tenth." But the toil was 
apparently all lost. Across the enterprise and 
efforts made in all directions the word failure" 
might have been written. Sometifnes Guy- 
wondered if those whom they sought had 
passed beyond their reach ; had they died, 
crushed beneath their overwhelming trouble ? 
Then came the hope that, in spite of difficulties, 
they had found their chance and gone abroad. 
From that day the numerous advertisements 
which appeared in the newspapers from time to 
time, put in to catch the eye of Aubrey Rice, 
had invariably the words attached, Foreign 
papers, please copy." 



CHAPTER XXXII 



THE MAN WITH A PLATE 

One night the future Lord Horrick and his old 
college friend, by this time much absorbed in 
his study of the ''submerged tenth," found 
themselves in the historic neighbourhood of 
Soho Square. The determination to visit this 
immediate vicinity had come about from over- 
hearing a chance remark in an omnibus. Two 
ladies had been in animated conversation. 
They sat side by side and spoke in lowered 
tones. Suddenly one exclaimed in a voice 
raised by excitement, " Yes, I have often 
heard the same thing ; if you want to find a lost 
friend who has drifted down in life, look for him 
within a stone's throw of Soho Square! It is the 
haunt of the aristocratic victim of misfortune." 

" Who knows," said Guy afterwards to his 
companion, " but that we might at least hear 
something of poor Rice there, even if we did 
not actually come across him? We could make 
inquiries as we have done in the far East, and 
by some happy chance, some clue might be 
forthcoming." 

So the following evening the two friends 

2 A 361 



362 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

found their way to the spot in question. Those 
who do not know anything personally of this 
most interesting neighbourhood cannot con- 
ceive the strange fascination of walking down 
streets which in bygone days were associated 
with names so well known to fame — Hogarth, 
Charles Lamb, Mendelssohn, the original 
Novello, and a score of others. 

It was a close evening in June, not a breeze 
or breath stirring to relieve the oppression of 
the atmosphere, an evening when one instinc- 
tively longs for the country, if one's thoughts 
are free to wander, as certainly' Guy Manville's 
were not at that moment. He could not 
explain the fact, but never before in the weary 
search for Aubrey Rice had he felt quite the same 
hopefulness as to results as on this special occa- 
sion. Had he defined his reasons for this, he 
would probably have fallen back upon the initial 
circumstance of the case, namely, that the ground 
was altogether new to him. Eastwards and 
westwards he had been, but never before had 
this immediate district, with the special neigh- 
bourhood lying between it and the Strand, 
come under his notice. 

As Guy and his friend sauntered leisurely 
along the hot pavement, observing with 
astonishment the mansion-like houses, and 
noting with interest the names of the streets, 
Gibson Rhodes ventured the remark, The 



THE MAN WITH A PLATE 



Hebrew brother seems very much in evidence 
here ! I cannot think your old friend would 
willingly take up his residence amongst them. 
You remember from our previous experience 
we find, after all, that Christians and Hebrews 
seldom patronise the same locality ; where one 
is a marked feature the other will be missing. 
Of course, now we are here, it will be well to 
look round a bit ; but, my dear fellow, I do 
beseech you, cut it short ; this fragrant neigh- 
bourhood is even less inviting than many of 
your favourite spots 'down East.'" 

You offered to come with me," said Guy, 
cheerfully ; ''stick to your bargain, old fellow. 
I mean to have a thorough look round, now 
I am here ! " 

Gibson Rhodes sighed. 

" So like you, Manville, never to say die. 
Well, I would feel less depressed, I daresay, 
at the present moment if only just to oblige us 
the thermometer were to be lowered 20 
degrees. Just look at these people's faces. Did 
you ever see despair written more plainly ? " 

The statement was too true to be contra- 
dicted. The hot evening had brought men 
and women to their doors. Those of advanced 
years looked strangely weary and dispirited, 
while the younger ones, particularly the men, 
loungers at street corners and outside public- 
houses, had faces which for the most part wore 



364 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

that pitiable expression which denotes the aim- 
lessness and hopelessness of a life which has 
failed. 

But Guy was quick to call his friend's atten- 
tion to the children playing about, many of 
whom were strikingly beautiful, and all looked 
for the most part healthy and well cared for — 
a marked contrast to the street children of 
Whitechapel and Shadwell. 

" Now, do notice," said Guy, as they paused 
and watched two lads chasing each other, 
twisting and turning about from one side of the 
street to the other, backwards and forwards, as 
if the village green and not the hot London 
pavement were their playground, " these 
youngsters about here will contrast with 
definite advantage with country children of 
like age. These have an intelligence which 
those lack. I am quite convinced that the 
average city child possesses a measure of 
vitality unknown to its apparently more 
favoured country cousin. You see, with these 
youngsters, every hour of the day is doing its 
work of education, admittedly not always of the 
most healthful kind ; whereas, with the village 
child, lack of variety, shop windows, with their 
endless objects of interest ; the cry of the news- 
paper boy sharpening the wits which try to 
take in up-to-date news ; and the hundred and 
one things which go to make up city life ; 



THE MAN WITH A PLATE 



the lack of variety has at least the tendency 
to leave the brain a little sleepy, and the fullest 
capacity of enjoyment undeveloped." 

''Ah! now I come to think of it," observed 
Gibson Rhodes, suddenly noticing that they had 
turned into Frith Street, I had an interesting 
book in my hand the other day — Card well's 
' Two Centuries in Soho ' — it was when calling 
on a friend in Russell Square (and I only 
glanced at it while waiting for her ladyship to 
appear), but I distinctly recall an allusion to 
Frith Street, once, in the good old times, known 
as Thrifty Street." 

'* I think the change of name, or rather the 
fact that it has been changed, is very sugges- 
tive," said Guy, glad to find his friend had 
found something to be interested in. ''It looks 
as if, in giving up the wholesome word ' Thrifty,' 
one could hear a sort of wail : the better condi- 
tions of life had no place here ; the scramble to 
live precluded saving of all kinds ; take a name 
that sounds something like it, but which offers 
no insult to poverty. Stay, stop a moment ; 
look at that man crossing the road. Gibson, 
t^a^'s Aubrey Rice. Good heavens ! how 
altered!" 

Guy's sudden excitement was due to his 
attention fixing itself at that moment upon a 
man who had just passed them, coming out of a 
fish shop, and was making his way to the other 



366 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

side of the street, carrying most carefully a 
plate covered by a piece of newspaper. Upon 
this his eyes were fixed very intently. 

As I never happened to see even a photo- 
graph of your friend, I'm not in a position to 
deny what you say," said Gibson Rhodes in 
answer, but it strikes me that yon poor fellow 
doesn't look much like a gentleman by birth; 
but there's no telling how one's misfortunes may 
alter a man ! " 

**If it's not Rice, WTeck as the man looks, I 
will never trust my own eyes again ! " exclaimed 
Guy, impulsively. He must be forgiven talking 
in exaggerated tones. The weary months of 
long searching in which not even one ray of 
hope had come to cheer him made the present 
moment one of sublime excitement. Some one 
so like the man sought for, allowing for the 
difference which his misfortunes must have 
caused, was actually before him. Without even 
one inquiry in the various lodging-houses 
towards which Guy was at that moment making 
his way, there was the man. 

Let us follow him," said Manville ; "it 
would be a pity to make a scene in the 
street ; he is too intent upon what he is 
carrying to notice us." Guy spoke as one 
labouring under great excitement. And well it 
might be so, for at least he believed himself at 
last to have found the man who at a word from 



THE MAN WITH A PLATE 



himself would find all life changed to him — one 
moment bearing the brand of the criminal, the 
next restored to his rights as a free and honour- 
able member of society. 

They crossed the road, following closely the 
poor fellow, whose footsteps dragged, perhaps 
more from hopelessness and mental weariness 
than from actual physical tiredness. His head 
was bent down over the plate he carried, but as 
he turned a corner to the left into Church Street, 
which is noted as being situated between the 
historic church of St. Anns' and the modernly 
erected Palace Theatre, either building standing 
out boldly at their respective ends, Guy caught 
another glimpse of his face. This time he was 
more sure than even at the first that the man 
they were following was none other than the 
man they had sought by every means to trace 
— Aubrey Rice. 

Neither spoke after that. Gibson Rhodes 
forgot about the sultry atmosphere, forgot his 
haste to quit the neighbourhood, forgot almost 
his' interest in the man whom it was the desire 
to hunt to ground ; the absorbing thought to 
him at that moment was his friend, Guy 
Manville. How would he bear his disap- 
pointment when he found they had been 
following a Will-o'-the-wisp," for, by the 
utmost stretch of the imagination, how could 
any one believe that that poor, miserable-look- 



368 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

ing fellow could claim at one time to have 
been a man of education and culture ? Guy 
Manville's excitement was positively touching. 
Gibson wished his friend's fiancee. Miss 
Thatchet, could see him at that moment. 
The expression on his face was almost 
seraphic ! 

" Ah, his Christianity is the genuine article," 
he mused. I know he has prayed a good 
deal about finding his friend, and he has got it 
into his head that his prayer is about to be 
answered. . . 

Meanwhile a few doors down to the left, the 
man followed had paused, standing aside to let 
some people pass him before entering the door 
of a somewhat imposing-looking house. Guy 
quickened his footsteps and Gibson Rhodes 
kept up with him. The followed man had 
entered, and the door closed just as his pursuers 
reached it, but it was soon seen that, though 
shut, the said door was not latched. Guy 
gently pushed it open, and as it swung back 
they found themselves in quite a wide passage 
of a four-storeyed house. True, the first impres- 
sion was one suggesting that this well-built 
house, like so many people of the district, had 
once known better days. Its frescoed walls, 
faded, and in some places defaced completely ; 
the oaken staircase visibly much dilapidated ; 
the general air of shabby gentility about the 



THE MAN WITH A PLATE 



place removed it far above an ordinary and 
modernly - built lodging - house or tenement- 
dwelling. 

And now the question was, what had become 
of the man with the plate ? There was not a 
trace of him to be seen, and yet no time had 
been lost. 

He has made more haste inside than he did 
out," remarked Guy, "or he could not have 
packed himself away so quickly. But as this 
seems to be an open house what is to hinder us 
from mounting the staircase and knocking at the 
first door we come to ? " 

And upon this Guy started to put his sugges- 
tion into action. Before, however, he had 
reached the first landing, a little golden-haired 
girl came out from a room, the door of which 
was speedily closed after her exit, and as she 
waited for him to complete his mount ere she 
commenced to descend, he found a chance of 
asking her a few questions. 

Have you some one living here named 
Rice ? " he said, so standing that the child 
addressed could not pass him until he moved 
out of her way. 

No one," was the concise reply. 

"Perhaps," suggested Gibson, "you may 
not know the names of all who live here.'^ 
There will surely be more than one family in 
this large house ? " 



370 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

" Yes, indeed," said the child, laughing ; 
there are eight families here — one for each 
room. It's only last week that the Jones' left. 
When worked in Covent Garden they did 
the swell and hired two rooms — back and 
front landing above this ; but times got awful 
bad with them, and they removed off to the 
buildings in Charing Cross Road, and their 
rooms have been let to two sets. I almost 
forget their names, Simmons or Simond, or 
something of that sort. Those are the people 
in the front, and at the back it's Salt. I 
shouldn't forget that name, because it's so easy, 
isn't it ? " 

Who, then, lives in the room next the one 
you have just come from ? " asked Gibson 
Rhodes, very much interested in noticing the 
graceful manners and gentle tones of the little 
girl before them. 

Oh ! " was the reply, that's another set of 
Jones'. They are very poor, because the 
father's a cripple, you see. He does next to 
nothing ; but the parson, he comes to see him, 
and he's very good to him. Sometimes his 
lady sends him broken victuals from the 
Rectory. Everybody knows he would work if 
he could, so we kind of feel glad when he's 
helped." 

Well, now, you have told us the names of 
all upon the two top floors — that is this one and 



THE MAN WITH A PLATE 37 1 

one above. But are there not rooms just below 
us near the entrance ? " 

It was Guy Manville again who put the 
question ; this time he spoke more deliberately. 
Was he losing hope ? 

They're the Martins and the Cholmneys," 
was the quick reply. Old Mr. Cholmney used 
to play the organ beautiful. Once he got the 
verger to blow for him in St. Ann's, and we 
children, I mean me and my two brothers, 
heard him give it those key-notes fine. He 
hammered and scolded and shook them like 
anything — it was just like a thunderstorm ; 
then all of a sudden the sun was a-shining — I 
mean it sounded as if it had become a lovely 
summer evening, and Jack and me said we 
could hear the birds twittering in the trees as 
they got ready for bed, like we used to hear 
them when we lived in the country, and we 
could smell the new-mown hay and the wall- 
flower and mignonette that grew in grandad's 
garden. Oh, it was grand ! " 

And the child's eyes were glistening with 
animated feeling, and her little chest heaved 
as she came to a sudden stop in her description. 

And where is Mr. Cholmney now?" said 
Guy. 

Oh, he used to drink," said the child, in 
lowered voice, ''and he got ill and was took to 
the Infirmary and died." 



372 T^flE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

It was impossible not to be touched by this 
vividly - depicted narrative. At any other 
moment Guy would have been content to 
question and cross-question the little girl if 
only to hear her speak and get more of her 
picture-illustrations, but he was impatient to 
run to earth the man with a plate. 

I think, perhaps, there are rooms down- 
stairs, are there not ? " he suggested. 

Oh, yes ; the kitchens, they let for four 
shillings a week," was the quick reply. 
*' Widow Smith has the back. She's been 
bad with bronchitis, and the nurse comes to 
see her. Then in the front there's a lot of 
little children who've got no mother, only a 
sister and father to take care of them. Oh ! I 
forgot they cleared out last week. It's some 
new people who've got that kitchen ; and 
there's somebody ill there, only I don't think 
nurse goes." 

" Thank you for all you have told me," said 
Guy, adding, as he slipped half a crown into the 
little girl's hand, "you must put this in your 
money-box, and some day I hope we may see 
you again." 

The little girl in question dropped a low 
curtsey, a movement which proclaimed her 
country born and bred, then she hurried back 
into her one-roomed home to tell mother " of 
the great gift she had had. 



THE MAN WITH A PLATE 



373 



Meanwhile Guy and Gibson retraced their 
steps and quickly regained the entrance passage. 
From this they found their way to the kitchen 
flight of stairs. It was very dark and they had 
to grope their way slowly, cautiously. Anxious 
to perform the feat noiselessly, they descended 
the ten or twelve steps which led to the kitchen. 
No open door from below lighted them, no 
window from above. 

''This is what I call 'walking by faith,' with 
a vengeance," said Gibson, in a whisper. 

" My friend, vengeance and faith will not run 
together," replied Guy, who was leading the 
way. "If you must talk, be more careful with 
your words." 

His tones were very cheery, even while 
hushed. It had a most stimulating effect upon 
Guy to be so near to the man who, if not his 
long-lost friend Aubrey Rice — supposing he, 
after all, was labouring under a delusion — was 
so like him that the resemblance even brought 
some relief to the long suspense of the hitherto, 
unsuccessful search. At length the door of the 
kitchen to the premises was safely reached. It 
took a moment or two to be sure of their bear- 
ings, but, when he was, Guy knocked softly ; 
then, failing to get an answer, a litde louder. 
There was a sound of movement within — only 
the replacing of a chair — then muffled tones, 
gentle persuasion and enfeebled remonstrance,. 



374 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 



a voice, the deeper one of the two, getting 
more distinct as it neared the door. A moment 
later and the door was opened. 

Come in, doctor," said the one from within, 
''you are a little before your time. Excuse my 
having kept you waiting." 

But the one supposed to be the doctor never 
moved. Guy Manville stood riveted to the 
spot; Gibson Rhodes, behind him, hidden away 
in the darkness. 

As the door opened the evening light came 
through the two windows (which were about 
level with the pavement outside from which 
they were separated by an ordinary grating), 
revealing very clearly every object in the room 
which Guy was invited to enter. A bed backed 
the wall which faced the light ; upon this lay a 
sick woman ; by her side was a table, covered 
by a spotlessly white cloth, and upon this 
table stood the plate of fish which had been 
so carefully carried home. The room was in 
perfect ordeT, its scant furniture giving it an air 
of neatness which a better furnished room would 
possibly have lacked. 

All this Guy took in at a glance as his eyes 
grew somewhat accustomed to the light. 

The one who had bidden him enter stood a 
little to the side, holding the door in his hands. 
He was glancing at his sick wife, when a few 
words from the one for whom he held the door 



THE MAN WITH A PLATE 



375 



open caused him to turn round quickly with a 
muffled cry of dismay. The words which 
had so affected him were these — 

''Aubrey, old chap, we have found you at 
last. Praise God ! " 



CHAPTER XXXIII 



THESE DAYS AND THOSE 

It was three years after the events narrated 
in the last chapter, on a certain morning in 
December, that the Squire of Edgcombe Manor 
House paced his Hbrary with hurried and 
excited footsteps. Again and again he paused, 
and, raising his hand to his brow, and reverently 
bending his head, ejaculated short sentences of 
prayer. Lord spare the mother for the child's 
sake and the child for the mother's. Oh, 
God, give my more than son, Aubrey, the joy 
of fatherhood ! He is worthy. We are such a 
united family. Thou knowest. For Christ, 
Thy Son's sake, don't separate us yet awhile." 

The old man grew comforted while thus lift- 
ing his thoughts heavenwards, and, as time 
wore on, his restlessness ceased. He had taken 
his seat by the window, watching for fully half 
an hour a heavy fall of snow, when the library 
door suddenly opened, and Aubrey Rice entered. 
He came in with more of the eagerness and 
animation of the old Aubrey than the Squire 
had seen in the three years he and his wife had 

376 



THESE DAYS AND THOSE 



377 



been residing at the Manor House. His face 
was all aglow with new life, new light. 

little son, Squire," he said in buoyant 
tones ; then he walked to the window, from 
which Mr. Butler- Edgcombe had moved away 
on hearing the door open, and pressed his 
forehead against the glass, in vain struggling 
with his emotion. 

The Squire, assuming to take no notice, rang 
the bell, and, on the butler's answering it, said 
quickly, Send Morris to the verger's at once, 
and ask him to arrange for the church bells to 
ring a peal. Tell him a little son has arrived 
at the Manor House." 

And Jinks' face was almost as beaming as his 
master's as he hastened off to do the Squire's 
bidding. 

And now a strange thing happened. The 
Rector had two years previously had a partial 
stroke of paralysis, recovering from it in 
measure, but only to sink into the deepest 
depression from which they had in vain sought 
to rouse him. He would sit for hours silent and 
unemployed ; if questions were put to him he, 
more often than not, only answered by nodding 
or shaking his head. A curate had been 
appointed to take charge until his recovery or 
until he resigned the living. Previous to this 
stroke Gertrude had sent him a little note 
simply asking — it was on their return from the 

2 B 



378 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

Continent after the first visit with the Squire — 
if she might come and see him, to receive a curt 
reply — '*It would be well for Mrs. Aubrey Rice 
to remember the conditions she herself accepted 
some years ago. The Rector had no intention 
of forgetting them," by which Gertrude read 
that her request had been refused. 

To-day, as the church bells broke out into a 
joyful peal, Mr. Hastings looked up from his 
arm-chair, where he had sat motionless and 
unoccupied ever since the breakfast table had 
been cleared, and said quickly, ''What now?" 

*' Gertrude has a little son," said his daughter 
Jane, who had just come into the room at the 
time. **Your grandchild, father," and she 
stooped down and kissed her fathers brow, 
as if in mute congratulation. 

Then suddenly the Rector got up from his 
chair, unaided, and exclaimed excitedly, " Send 
for Aubrey and ask the Squire to come too, or, 
better still, take me there." 

Now it chanced that Gertrude saw her 
sisters almost every week at church, but, fearing 
to offend their father, not one of them had been 
to the Manor House. Hence it happened that 
the Rector's request threw the girls — all were 
at home — into a state of unbounded delight. 
It was quickly decided for Jane to accompany 
him, and no time was lost in getting the 
brougham round. Fortunately the horse had 



THESE DAYS AND THOSE 



379 



only an hour or two previously been "roughed" 
in case he might be required to take either of 
the young ladies to the railway station. 

The Rector was all eagerness to get into a 
greatcoat which hung up in the hall near 
enough to the oil -stove to be considered 
aired, and which had not been worn for over 
two years. 

Jane lost no time in getting ready. Many 
and many a time she had in the past sought 
to say a word for Gertrude, though all in vain, 
until the Rector had forbidden her name ever 
to be mentioned to him again. Surely, thought 
Jane, the birth of a little grandchild had come 
like summer sunshine to banish all the mists of 
bygone years. 

The Squire and Aubrey noticed the Rectory 
carriage driving slowly through the snow. 

" Some one comes to make inquiries after the 
young mother," said the Squire. 

'*It is the Rector himself," said Aubrey, 
solemnly, and he at once left the room and 
descended to the hall. The Rector's conduct 
had been both brutal and barbarous, unjusti- 
fiable by the search-light of either Christianity 
or civilisation. But what cared Aubrey at this 
moment! A little child was born into the 
world, and, by some mysterious and reverent 
association of ideas with the Babe of centuries 
ago, it had brought with it peace and good- 
will." 



380 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

You have come to congratulate us, Rector," 
Aubrey had said, going at once to the old- 
fashioned and somewhat of a heavy lumbering 
style of carriage, the door of which he opened, 
extending his hand to the occupier. 

I have, I have, humbly, and with deep 
thankfulness," was the tearful response. 

And upon that came the Squire, and insisted 
the Rector should come in ; and then Aubrey 
was all anxiety with the solicitude of a devoted 
son lest Mr. Butler- Edgcombe should take 
cold, and the persuasive tones were mostly 
Aubrey's, and were divided between hospitable 
welcome on the one hand and earnest pleading 
to get away from the cold on the other. And 
all the time the bells were ringing a joyous 
peal. 

The Rector had not wanted much persuading. 
His daughter Jane was quick to ask Aubrey to 
give him just the help required to meet the 
needs of restricted movement. And thus did a 
humbled Rector cease from anger and forsake 
wrath. To the two men who did him honour 
but one thought was uppermost in their minds. 

This was Gertrude's father ; Gertrude would 
be pleased," but it would come to each later the 
deep thankfulness that the long-broken friend- 
ship between the Manor House and the Rectory 
had that day been repaired. 

It was the Squire and Jane Hastings who 



THESE DAYS AND THOSE 38 1 

did most of the talking at the luncheon table. 
Aubrey spoke when necessary, but his power to 
keep up a flowing conversation had never 
returned to him since ''those days." When first 
coming to the Manor House, the day following 
that memorable evening when Guy Manville 
found them in Soho, Aubrey had needed as 
much care and nursing as Gertrude. The 
Squire had put the west wing entirely at their 
disposal, and for quite three months they 
scarcely left their prescribed quarters. Gradu- 
ally and by degrees they became once more 
accustomed to the ways and surroundings of 
refined and cultured society. Of all they had 
gone through and suffered in those terrible forty 
months in hiding they never spoke except to 
Guy and his wife Dora, who were frequent 
visitors at the Manor House. They had early 
heard the story, from the start (the night of 
escape) to the bitter end. 

Aubrey had succeeded, quite early in the 
history of the time following his escape from 
prison, in filling a position suddenly vacated in 
an office in Euston Road by a young man who 
was lodging where they did in Bloomsbury, a 
boarding-house with easy terms. He had gone 
with the news of the young man's sudden illness 
and had been offered the work until his re- 
covery. Later, when it was found that the 
young clerk in question must have a sea voyage 



382 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

before he could possibly return to the office, 
Aubrey's appointment passed from temporary" 
to ''permanent the employer did not care to 
keep the position open ; if his friend, who passed 
under the name of Sam Hilliery, cared to settle 
down he could. 

Aubrey had cared very much to do so, but, 
unfortunately, in the fourth month it was 
decided, in order to meet the requirements of 
increasing business, to take on a second clerk, 
and alas ! for the poor escaped convict, who 
should that be but a young fellow who had 
been one of the junior apprentices at Catch- 
pool Brothers during Aubrey's time with the 
Firm. 

Had he been an older or more reliable man 
it might have been possible to have taken him 
into his confidence and have made him his 
friend, but the risk was too great. Aubrey 
grew nervous at the mere thought. He had 
seen the correspondence which had followed a 
personal interview when Aubrey had not been 
present ; and on the day of the young man's 
coming to take up his duties he had met him 
on the landing as he was about to pass into 
the office. 

With a start the new-comer had exclaimed, 
" Why, it must be Mr. Rice, only — " 

** My name is Sam Hilliery," said Aubrey, 
trying to steady his voice ; "and yours ? " 



THESE DAYS AND THOSE 



Well, I never saw such a wonderful likeness 
before," continued the new-comer. Of course, 
you heard of that dreadful case of forgery, 
Catchpool Brothers, October twelve months. 
My ! it was a set out ; the young fellow was all 
in a hurry to get married, and as funds were 
low — it's a pretty stiff business taking and fur- 
nishing a house, you see — he helped himself, 
you know, to what wasn't his." 

By this time they had entered the office, and 
there was nothing to hinder a long recital of the 
case quoted. 

Excuse me," interrupted Aubrey, **but we 
come here for work, and have no time for 
gossip ! " 

I see you know all about it," said the young 
man with a sneer, as at that moment the 
employer came from an inner office, and greeted 
him courteously as a new-comer. 

Aubrey's life was a terror to him that day. 
He had known next to nothing of this 
apprentice when at Catchpool's, but had the 
impression that he was not thought too well of, 
the probable cause of his having no longer 
any connection with the Firm. Supposing he 
was led to talk to others of the wonderful 

forgery case," as would be natural, and 
some one had chanced to see that the convicted 
man had escaped from prison, and that the 
police were searching for him, what was to 



384 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

hinder the young fellow growing suddenly- 
important by going up to Scotland Yard and 
telling the authorities there that a man in his 
office was the very image of the one wanted ? : 

The risk was too great, and the anxiety 
associated with it would be too severe a strain. 
There seemed no help for it ; he must leave. 
So, on the second day, Gertrude had an interview 
with the manager, saying her husband had been 
called suddenly to the death-bed of his father 
down in the country, and would be pleased to 
put a man in his place, as she was sure business 
would keep him away, if not altogether, for an 
indefinite time. She had only stayed behind to 
bring this message, and now she must follow 
her husband with all speed. 

Gertrude had met with but scant courtesy. 

''Just the way if you take on a man of 
whom you practically know nothing ; bound to 
be something unexpected happen. He did not 
believe a word of her story. Her husband was 
on the drink. Why didn't she own up at 
once ? " and so forth. 

Poor Gertrude had left the office humbled 
to the dust. It had cost her something to utter 
so glibly these terrible falsehoods, but what was 
to be done? Until the truth came out which 
would establish Aubrey's innocence, how could 
they be open and above board " — as her 
husband phrased it — in their conduct ? To one 



THESE DAYS AND THOSE 385 



of Gertrude's temperament this was after all a 
very heavy price to pay for "liberty, sweet 
liberty." 

Then had followed a series of misfortunes. 
Oh, how quickly one evil lands you into 
another ! It was utterly impossible for Aubrey 
to get work of a suitable kind, with a fair 
salary, without reference or testimonial. There 
were, to a man free to move about without 
dreading daylight detection, many odd and 
chance positions to fill when the unexpected 
had happened, and an extra hand was required, 
but even then the one seeking employment 
would be casually known to some one else. It 
was the need to stand alone, to be absolutely 
isolated, which presented the chief difficulty in 
getting work. 

For a while Aubrey had managed to pick 
up a little special book-keeping, working for 
small tradespeople, who were glad to have 
their weekly accounts made out for them ; but 
the pay was terribly inadequate to the time 
expended, often only averaging threepence an 
hour. A shilling for four hours' work would 
be accounted smart remuneration " by the 
one who knew, by a little effort on his part, he 
could have managed the whole thing himself 

This temporary starvation wage had led to 
other difficulties. With such bad pay it had 
been quite impossible to live any longer in two 



386 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

rooms — the boarding-house plan had long ago 
been given up — whence one had been taken. 

And so the story, as told to Guy and 
Dora, ran. 

It is not our intention to trace poor Aubrey 
and his faithful wife through their quick and 
calamitous down-drifting. Enough to say, 
starting with HOPE, spelt with capital letters, 
they grew in time to be utterly despondent. 
Existence itself became a burden because of 
enfeebled health. Deeper and deeper in despair 
they sank, looking each other in the face with 
dumb questioning, How much lower can we 
sink ? " They had no heart to read even a 
newspaper ; to talk with a neighbouring lodger 
was out of the question. At least they could 
keep their secret safe while sharing it with none ; 
and better almost that life itself should end than 
for those who knew them in the past to realise 
how deplorably outcast their condition of 
to-day. 

And so they sank to the level of the destitute. 
Envelope-directing was at last Aubrey's chief 
means of finding bare sustenance, and this of 
the poorest kind. This work never failed him, 
but health often limited the power to get through 
it to any very great extent. 

From this low land of the severest mental 
anguish and depression that human beings 
could ever be called upon to suffer, there stood 



THESE DAYS AND THOSE 387 

out clearly defined two headlands of variety. 
The one was the unexpected meeting with 
Stanley Pritchard, from whose pursuit Aubrey 
had fled as for dear life ; the other a letter from 
the Rector. 

The latter incident came about on this wise. 
Moving for the tenth or twelfth time into a 
new locality, some chance happening causing 
Aubrey's sensitive mind unrest — an over- 
inquisitive neighbour, close questioning from 
the agent who collected the rent, or a more 
steadfast gaze than usual from a passing police- 
man being quite sufficient reason to make a 
change desirable — they got into the kindly 
hands of a city missionary. 

Convinced that the young couple, so silent 
as to their personal history, so superior in 
every way to their environment, were worthy 
of a helping hand, good old Mr. Larkins 
suggested one day that if only Mr. Hilliery 
could produce a reference from a clergyman 
he could put him into a clerk's place — he could 
himself see to suitable clothing — where he 
would be factotum to an elderly man losing 
his eyesight. His duties were to sit in a back 
parlour of a small shop in Booksellers' Row 
and write letters at his employer's dictation, 
make and correct catalogues of books, with 
the purchase and sale of which he had nothing 
whatever to do. For this he would be paid 



388 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

eighteen shillings a week and get his dinner 
and tea thrown in. The hours were from ten 
to eight. 

To Aubrey this sounded suggestive of a 
haven of rest. How many weary miles did he 
walk in a week, bringing envelopes home to be 
addressed and taking them back ? (Never since 
the encounter with Stanley Pritchard dare he 
venture to the men's club-room in Drury Lane, 
where, by paying a few coppers weekly to the 
deputy, he was allowed special permission to 
privileges supposed to be exclusively the 
lodgers'. This had saved his steps and made 
work easier in many ways, hence his earnings 
had been better week by week.) 

But how was this reference to be secured ? 
To whom could he possibly make application ? 
Gertrude, in sheer desperation, hit upon a plan. 
She would write to her father, stating the case 
briefly. For his own sake he would not, how- 
ever angry, dare to make use of the informa- 
tion and bring Aubrey to the notice of the 
police. His heart might be touched, for, after 
all, was she not his own child, his own flesh 
and blood ? 

Aubrey was difficult to persuade that the plan 
would answer, but Gertrude's tearful pleading 
won the day, and the letter was sent. Oh, 
what a letter it was ! How full of silent pathos, 
how dignified in the bare mention of the fact 



THESE DAYS AND THOSE. 389 



that as an escaped prisoner it was necessary to 
remain in hiding until the actual perpetrator of 
the crime confessed his wrong-doing. How- 
pathetic the plea : For my dead mother's sake, 
help us by speaking kindly of Aubrey to the 
one who will write to you, and so securing 
work which will considerably lessen our present 
trouble." 

To this letter Gertrude had received no 
answer. Again and again she had called at the 
post office to which she had asked for any reply 
to be addressed. She had given her assumed 
name. Meanwhile the city missionary came 
round to their one-roomed tenement to say he 
had heard from the clergyman, and he was sorry 
to say the reference was not satisfactory. 
Pressed to show the correspondence, he pro- 
duced the letter, which read thus — 

" Sir, — I regret I can say nothing good of 
Mr. S. Hilliery. Whether he goes under his 
own name or the one he has for purposes best 
known to himself assumed, he is a man I hold 
in sovereign contempt. — Yours faithfully, 

"Archibald Hastings, 
Rector of 

Thus died out from the hearts of these two 
troubled souls the last ray of hope . . . 
And yet was not the Rev. Archibald Hastings, 
M.A., Rector, more to be pitied than they.-* 



390 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

After this had come Gertrude's illness, long 
and tedious, the illness which comes through 
mental strain and heart disappointment, and 
their removal later to Soho, Aubrey still earning 
what money he had time and strength to make 
at that monotonous toil of addressing envelopes. 

Having told their story, Guy urged upon 
them to, as far as possible, dismiss the past from 
their minds. Let them both devote themselves 
to the good Squire, who was so determined to 
leave them in the full enjoyment of his wealth 
when the time came for him to go from earthly 
scenes. 

And with returning health there had come the 
power to throw off dismal memories. Two 
or three trips to the Continent came later, for 
a few weeks at a time, when the Squire accom- 
panied them as eager as a child to see the 
things he had heard of and read about. Then 
had come a longer journey, and this, in part, 
the Squire s own planning, although it would 
deprive him for the space of three months, at 
least, of the companionship upon which he was 
learning so much to depend : they crossed the 
Atlantic to renew the acquaintance of the chief 
warder and Amy, giving cheer and practical 
expression of gratitude to those who so richly 
deserved to be remembered. Aubrey felt free 
to bestow gifts worthy of acceptance since the 
compensation cheque had been handed over to 



THESE DAYS AND THOSE 39 1 

him by the Firm of Catchpool Brothers, with 
many sincere expressions of regret for the past, 
and most advantageous offers for the future 

should he honour the Firm by becoming 
associated with *it once more " — overtures not 
Hkely for a moment to be entertained, as the 
heir of Edgcombe Manor had duties ready to 
assert themselves in other directions so soon as 
he was equal to the demand. 

Long before this the good farmer and his 
wife from South Hill had been invited to the 
Manor House, spending a most enjoyable three 
days, all the time that could be spared from 
the farm, and receiving on their departure a 
sealed packet not to be opened until their return 
home, iVubrey's pleasant little plan of dis- 
charging a debt of some standing. The packet 
was afterwards discovered to contain ;^ioo in 
Bank of England notes, a slip of paper giving 
the explanation, '' For board and lodging and in 
acknowledgment of kindness received," with a 
certain memorable date. 

Meanwhile the Squire had said that it only 
needed good Inspector Benson to complete the 
little family party. At which both Mr. and 
Mrs. Sheppard had looked grave, so impos- 
sible was it for them to lose the memory of 
that night's anxiety. No, even though legally 
in possession of the freedom to which he had 
fullest right, it was still expedient, in the inter- 



392 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

ests of Others, to leave untold the romantic 
associations of No. 75 s wonderful escape. 
And so to this day the prison authorities and 
officials will have it that the unfortunate man 
who made the drop of 30 feet in order to effect 
his escape must have injured himself for life, 
probably shortened his existence by some few 
years, although no record of his injuries was 
before the public when Aubrey Rice's free 
pardon was declared and subsequently claimed. 

Nor was old Sarah, the faithful servant, for- 
gotten. With some difficulty she was found 
(having changed her address no less than seven 
times) in enfeebled health ; indeed, very much 
broken in mind as well as body. 

" She was so good to my mother," said 
Aubrey, as he gave the Squire some details of 
their call upon the poor woman. 

And to me * Mrs. Rice, junior,' as she 
would call me all in a breath," said Gertrude. 

I have the highest regard for that poor old 
body, and when I think how she puzzled the 
doctor about the exact business which had 
called Aubrey away, and kept him without his 
right address — he told me all about it after I 
got better — I quite love her for her loyalty." 

**Then, my dear lady," said the Squire, 
warmly, rubbing his hands as he spoke, '*it 
shall rest with you to send her the invitation 
to come to No. 5 Edgcombe Alms Houses, 



THESE DAYS AND THOSE 



393 



that one being vacant, and take up her abode 
amongst us. She has no need to refer to 
the troubled past in her intercourse with the 
other inmates. We know how well she can 
keep a secret, all we remember of her — -I mean 
you and your husband ; vou think she's a worthy 
recipient of Alms House bounties ? " 

Indeed we do ! No one more so ! " ex- 
claimed Aubrey and Gertrude almost in one 
breath. 

Then that settles the matter," said the 
Squire, beaming. It was a singular pleasure to 
him just now to make plans which seemed to 
bind the two, who were so much to him to-day, 
more closely to his own personal life and 
associations. 

It would be many years before Aubrey 
was called to take his place as Squire of the 
Manor, and long before this event Guy would 
have come into the title of Lord Horrick, and 
Judith, Stanley Pritchard's widow, having 
passed through her hospital training, would be 
matron of a convalescent home in Devonshire; 
but the intervening years were full of abundant 
interest. Baby feet pattered about the old 
Manor House ; with charming audacity roguish 
little people claimed Grandpapa's study" for a 
nursery in preference to the one Nurse called 
their own. Baby voices made sweet music in 
the long picture gallery, unmindful of the 

2 C 



394 THE ROMANCE OF AN EMERGENCY 

solemn portraits frowning down upon them. 
Baby hearts generated a wealth of love which 
freshened and made fragrant the home-life 
atmosphere around them. 

Certainly the Squire had a very happy old 
age. Far and wide his goodness to the unforunate 
and poverty-stricken would be talked about, 
with endless illustrations, more or less true to 
life ; and if at times the old cronies, enjoying 
the privileges of his Alms Houses, told the story 
to new-comers of that wonderful marriage 
between Miss Matilda Edgcombe and the 
butler, it was sure to end with a warm God 
bless him ! Yon Manor House has never 
boasted a better Squire ! " 

Which says a good deal for 

The Romance of an Emergency ! " 



THE END. 



William Hodge & Co., Printers, Glasgow and Edinburgh.